Secretary of Health and Human Services Otis R. Bowen announced tough new antiabortion regulations yesterday that would block all federally funded family planning clinics from providing any information about abortion to pregnant women.
The regulations are designed to carry out President Reagan's pledge to expunge all abortion information and referrals from the $142.5-million-a-year Family Planning Program. They also would require an organization that runs a family planning clinic with federal funds, but carries out abortion activities with its own funds, to keep the two functions totally apart, with separate offices, entrances, phone numbers and medical and financial records.
"Abortion has no place in the . . . Family Planning Program," Bowen said after sending the proposed regulations to the Federal Register for publication Tuesday. There will be a 60-day period for public comment; final regulations then will be published.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, praised the new regulations and said, "If these rules stick, they'd dispel much of the controversy surrounding the program."
But Scott Swirling, executive director of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, said that if the proposed regulations are made final without change, his organization probably will seek court action to block them because he said they deny information to pregnant women on all of the medical options available to them.
Jody Frisch of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America said, "It's medically unethical not to inform a woman of all her options. We are looking into the possibility of legal action."
Under the Family Planning Act of 1970, the government makes grants to hospitals, state and local health agencies and private groups such as Planned Parenthood to provide contraceptives and other family planning services and advice to low-income and other women.
The law excludes abortion as a method of family planning under the program and thus bars the use of federal funds to perform or advocate abortions. But it does not bar a group that receives federal funds from using its nonfederal funds to perform or advocate abortions outside the federal program.
Existing program rules require that when a woman who is unintentionally pregnant seeks advice from a federally funded clinic on how to handle the pregnancy, it must inform her, in a nondirective fashion, that abortion, keeping the baby or putting the baby up for adoption all are options. The clinic must provide her with a list of nonfederally funded abortion clinics if she requests.
Abortion foes have complained that the rule requiring a list of options and outside abortion clinics has the effect of promoting abortion and should be rescinded as violating the 1970 law. Bowen, endorsing this view, said yesterday, "It is unrealistic to assume that counseling and referral concerning abortion do not promote or encourage abortion."
The new regulations would make these changes in the program rules:Instead of being required to inform a pregnant woman of her options, including abortion, all federally funded clinics would be forbidden to list options or to refer the woman directly to an outside abortion clinic. Once the woman is pregnant, the clinic could only provide a full and comprehensive list of doctors and agencies that offer "prenatal medical care and delivery services" and other services. The list cannot be weighted with the names of organizations that provide or refer for abortion, since that would constitute "an indirect means to encourage" abortion. An organization running a federally funded clinic, but at the same time using its own nonfederal funds for abortion activities outside the federally funded clinic, would have to keep the two activities entirely separate. Separate medical records, finances, offices, phone numbers, names, waiting rooms, exits and entrances and personnel systems would have to be used. If the same street address were used, the group would have to show that the two facilities were separate.
This is designed to counter the charge that sometimes the federally funded and nonfederally funded activities are all but merged. All use of any federal funds for abortions and direct advocacy of abortion would continue to be barred, and advocacy would be defined to exclude a federally funded clinic from paying dues to any outside organization that uses a substantial part of its own funds for pro-abortion lobbying. Federal funds could not be used to produce or display films or brochures that include abortion as an option.
"The 1970 act is designed to address preventive family planning services or infertility problems for women before they are pregnant, and was not designed to provide health care and advice for women once they are pregnant," said Nabers Cabaniss, who runs the Family Planning Program and is deputy assistant secretary for population affairs. "Pregnant women need help that is beyond the scope of the program. Pregnant women need medical care, and in a large number of cases, referral for social services. We are saying that when pregnant, they should be referred to other programs for assistance."