The health care of 100,000 poor women in Maryland will be jeopardized if President Bush delivers on a promise to veto legislation overturning "gag rule" restrictions on family planning clinics supported by federal funds, Baltimore medical experts said today.
The veto, expected this week, "amounts very simply to censorship within the doctor's office," according to Dr. David A. Nagey, director of the division of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
If allowed to go into effect, the gag regulations would make it illegal for health professionals in public and private clinics receiving federal funds to provide any information about terminating a pregnancy.
Even if a patient asks about abortion -- and even if continuing a pregnancy would endanger her health -- clinic staff would not be allowed to answer her questions or refer her to someone who would, Nagey said.
This would place health care providers in these clinics in the position of "a Titanic steward who had to remain silent concerning the whereabouts of life jackets and lifeboats," he said.
The gag rule is was promulgated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Congress passed legislation overturning the rule, but Bush has threatened to veto it.
Nagey, flanked by a group of doctors and nurses from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University, independent social workers and others, made his comments at a news conference today at the People's Community Health Center at 3028 Greenmount Ave.
"The real issue here is not abortion," Nagey said. "[Federal] funds have never been used for abortions. In fact, each year [federal] funds help prevent 1.2 million unintended pregnancies nationwide and over 1,200 unwanted Maryland pregnancies," Nagey said.
The purpose of the conference was to decry Bush's promised action and to "send a strong message" to the Maryland congressional delegation to overturn the veto, he added.
Ninety-five clinics throughout the state currently provide basic health care for poor women -- 30 percent of them teen-agers -- under federal Title X funds. The care covers such things as routine physicals, Pap smears, mammograms and blood pressure screenings.
Several of the practitioners said that if President Bush's veto is not overturned, they will defy it.