Several doctors and nurses working at federally funded family planning centers said yesterday they were prepared to defy regulations that would "gag" them from counseling poor women about abortion.
In an unusual display of outrage from the medical profession, about a dozen people from health-care centers across Baltimore gathered at a private clinic on Greenmount Avenue to voice their dismay over President Bush's threatened veto of legislation that would lift an impending ban on abortion counseling.
"I personally would end up having to make a choice whether to practice bad medicine or risk violating the regulations," said Dr. David A. Nagey, chief of the high-risk pregnancy division of the University of Maryland Medical Center.
"I'd prefer to violate the regulations."
The briefing was held at the People's Community Health Center, 3028 Greenmount Ave.
Physicians from the Johns Hopkins University and a city health clinic said they, too, would defy the regulations and risk losing their federal funding. But a representative from Planned Parenthood of Maryland said that agency would simply give up its federal funding once the ban went into effect and look else where to make up the shortfall.
Planned Parenthood, which operates eight centers, receives 13 percent of its $3.9 million annual budget from federal family planning funds.
The "gag rule," several of the health professionals said, would violate their freedom of speech and their ethical obligation to advise patients about all the legal options available to pregnant women -- including abortion.
"A woman could not be referred somewhere for an abortion even if the woman had a medical condition that threatened her health should she continue the pregnancy," Dr. Nagey said.
Dr. Jean R. Anderson, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said the "gag rule" would create a two-tiered system of family planning: Poor people would be denied appropriate counseling, while more affluent patients could see private physicians and get abortion counseling without fear of federal interference.
Congress last week sent the president legislation that would lift an impending ban on abortion counseling at family planning centers receiving federal funds, sparking President Bush's promise to veto the legislation.
While the Senate passed the bill by a veto-proof margin, approval in the House fell far short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto.
The president has not yet acted on the legislation, although his veto is expected within days. Notices of the ban's taking effect probably would not be sent out for a few months.
The loss of federal funds would ultimately hurt poor women, the doctors and nurses said. Clinics serving the poor would have to shrink their staff -- meaning that many women would be deprived of routine gynecological care and contraceptive advice as well as abortion counseling.
Ironically, they said, the end result would be more unwanted pregnancies and abortions.