House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) has accused the Reagan administration of distorting and misrepresenting statements he made on the House floor in 1970 in an effort to justify its proposed ban on abortion counseling in the Federal Family Planning Prorgram.
Dingell was the author of a provision in the 1970 law barring federally funded clinics from using Family Planning Act money to perform abortions. But this provision was not intended to bar clinics from telling a woman that abortion is an option in an unintended pregnancy, Dingell said in an Oct. 14 letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Otis R. Bowen.
"I regret that the department has succumbed to political pressure to apparently misinterpret the congressional intent . . . and to propose the current set of regulations," Dingell said.
"At the personal level, I protest in the strongest possible terms the misuse of my floor statement from the debate during passage of the original family planning legislation in 1970," his letter said.
The department had no immediate comment.
Under Dingell's 1970 provision, no clinic may use federal program funds to pay for abortions, but general rules for the program have always provided that if a woman asks what to do about an unintended pregnancy, she must be told that keeping the baby, offering it for adoption and abortion are all options. If she so requests, the clinic must provide her with a list of facilities outside the program where she can obtain an abortion using her own funds or money from some non-Family Planning Program source.
Under heavy pressure from anti-abortion groups and abortion opponents within the administration, the White House directed HHS to propose regulations to ban all further abortion counseling and referrals. The proposed regulations also require that if an organization, such as Planned Parenthood, runs federally funded clinics, where abortion is barred, and other, nonfederally funded facilities where it advocates or performs abortion using its own funds, the clinics must be physically separated and cannot use adjoining offices, joint waiting rooms or the same entrance.
The administration's proposed regulations cited several 1970 Dingell floor statements to support the argument that Dingell's amendment was intended to ban abortion counseling and referrals as well as actual perfomance of abortions within the Family Planning Program.
In his letter, Dingell said the regulations, proposed Sept. 1, "quoted passages from my floor statement out of actual and historical context to imply things that were not said and which may not be reasonably inferred. My statement was made in opposition to the use of federal funds to support or encourage abortion as a form of birth control . . . .
"My remarks did not suggest, either expressly or implicitly, that the legislation being considered intended or required a prohibition on nondirective counseling or referral of pregnant women to abortion facilities. Nor did they in any way intend, require or contemplate the imposition of record-keeping, or distinct facility requirements, constraints on political activity or the taking of a negative oath by clinics."
Dingell said the proposed regulatory changes ignore the legislative history from 1970 to 1987. "Restrictions similar to those in the regulations have been specifically proposed and rejected during this period."