'Gag rule' causes Planned Parenthood to reject aid Maryland group will join affiliates in saying no to federal money.

March 26, 1992|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Staff Writer Washington reporter Lyle Denniston also contributed to this story.

The head of Planned Parenthood of Maryland said the organization is joining other national affiliates that will give up federal aid rather than comply with the Bush administration's revised "gag rule" on abortion counseling.

"We'll just keep doing what we've been doing until the feds knock on our door and tell us to stop. And if that happens, we'll just have to do some major fund raising to cover the loss," Jim Guest, the president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said yesterday.

The local Planned Parenthood's annual budget of $4 million includes $500,000 in federal Title X money. Client fees, private lTC donations and grants account for most of the rest of the budget.

Nationally, Planned Parenthood affiliates, which run the country's largest group of pregnancy and birth control clinics for the poor, will forfeit $30 million or more in federal funds.

In 1991, the Baltimore-based organization provided 15,000 clients with pregnancy tests, HIV counseling, contraceptive care and abortions at clinics in Baltimore, Towson, Owings Mills, Frederick, Waldorf, Annapolis and Salisbury, spokeswoman Linda Geeson said.

However, only the Howard Street clinic in Baltimore has enough low-income clients to qualify for the Title X funding, which is used exclusively for contraceptives and birth control counseling for the poor.

Mr. Guest called the Bush administration's apparent concession allowing doctors to discuss abortion with patients "insignificant and a sham."

"While doctors perform the abortions themselves, it's the nurse practitioners and other health professionals who do the counseling. So, to say doctors can counsel people but the other workers can't is really conceding nothing at all," he said.

Mr. Guest also called the gag rule "hypocritical" because, when clinics give up the Title X money, it will "prevent poor women from getting the birth control they need, which will lead to more unwanted pregnancies and more abortions. The Bush administration says it wants fewer abortions, but this rule will just have the opposite effect."

Mr. Guest said that, between the Bush gag rule and the Maryland abortion referendum slated for this November, family planning agencies "are under attack on all fronts."

In Washington, Dr. Kenneth Edelin of Boston, chairman of the Planned Parenthood Federation, said the "vast majority" of 130 separate Planned Parenthood groups, which together run hundreds of clinics, will say no to the government money.

That will be their reaction, he predicted, to last week's release by the Bush administration of a new set of rules to control abortion discussions with pregnant patients who visit federally funded clinics.

No version of a federal "gag rule" has ever gone into effect, but the new rule is due to take effect in about 2 1/2 months.

The revised clinic regulations came out Friday, and administration officials went to some lengths to assure reporters that the new rules would give doctors more freedom to discuss abortion with clinic patients.

Meanwhile, the administration gave its first formal indication that it will join the anti-abortion side when the Supreme Court takes up a major new test case on abortions rights in April. It asked the Supreme Court to give government lawyers time to support a Pennsylvania challenge to the basic 1973 abortion ruling in Roe vs. Wade.

The administration has twice before urged the court to overrule the Roe decision, but it had not said what it would do in the Pennsylvania case until it let the court know this week that it wanted to side with the challengers. It is expected to file an explanation of its anti-abortion stance next month.

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