Sticking to Its Principles

March 27, 1992

Planned Parenthood says that rather than accept the Bush administration's gag rule it will give up federal funding of its operations. The gag rule forbids professionals at birth control clinics from even referring to abortion as an option to a pregnant woman, much less recommending one.

President Bush has agreed to a policy which allows physicians but no one else at clinics to discuss abortion in at least some cases. In his view, according to White House officials, this was an admitted attempt to straddle the issue.

Why he would want to straddle is understandable. The right wing of his party, which has always been suspicious of Mr. Bush, is pushing him to uphold what it regards as the Reagan legacy on this issue. The original gag rule, which prevented even physicians from discussing abortion as an option in almost all cases, was issued in the last president's second term and upheld last year by the Supreme Court.

Give Planned Parenthood credit for sticking to its principles. A lot of recipients of all sorts of federal funds want it both ways, take the money but not accept federal policy guidelines. When they find they can't, many "rise above principle," take the money and adjust policy accordingly.

It is not going to be easy for Planned Parenthood now. Federal funds account for a significant portion of the organization's budgets. Planned Parenthood of Maryland, for example, gets about $500,000 a year from the federal government, or about 12-13 percent of its total budget. It will either have to cut back on its services or increase its fund-raising from other sources or charge women more for services -- or all of those things.

This is not the end of the story. It is certainly not the end of the political story. Pat Buchanan said of the new regulation, "I like the old position, to be quite candid." Thank goodness he never won a primary. George Bush would not have moved even as far as he did on the gag rule.

There will be a lot of agreement with the Buchanan view at the Republican national convention. We can only hope that by then the president will be looking to the general election campaign and a Democratic opponent who will be appealing to Republican women on this issue. Perhaps then he will relax the gag order a little more.

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