Tax funds spent in abortion debate Pa. moves leave both sides angry

October 12, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Both sides in the bitter abortion debate, which has played out in Pennsylvania as intensely as anywhere, have been using taxpayer money to advance their causes.

On one side, an abortion-rights legislator -- Democratic Rep. Karen Ritter -- has distributed $500,000 from the state's general fund to provide family-planning services, including birth control, around the state -- services that the state legislature expressly voted not to provide.

Anti-abortion forces find this outrageous.

"We object to our tax dollars being funneled into organizations like Planned Parenthood that are in the forefront of the abortion-rights movement," said Mary Beliveau, legislative coordinator of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.

At the same time, the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey, known nationally for his crusade against abortion, signed a $1.9 million contract last month with a self-described "pro-life" group to provide poor women with "alternatives to abortion."

This appalls abortion-rights advocates.

"It's scandalous," said Elizabeth Hrenda-Roberts, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Affiliates. "The function of this contract is to persuade women who might choose abortion to have the child. It is not a function of government to make that decision."

In tandem with his allotment for abortion alternatives, Mr. Casey has been funding what he calls "women's health services." The allocation pays for breast cancer screening, Pap tests and other exams for poor women -- but not for birth control, because budget negotiators thought it wouldn't pass the legislature.

Pennsylvania is one of five states that doesn't pay for birth control.

All of these appropriations are legal. But they were made after much behind-the-scenes negotiating and without fanfare because of the vehemence the subject engenders.

Jim Brown, Mr. Casey's chief of staff, helped devise the plan to spend equal amounts for women's medical services and anti-abortion groups.

"Funding for both is necessary and worthwhile from a public-policy point of view," he said. "We put both in the budget because we felt it was appropriate."

To abortion opponents, the line items in the budget "reflect the governor's desire to provide positive help and support to women and children in need," Ms. Beliveau said.

Last month, the state signed a one-year, $1.9 million contract with Lifeline of Southwest Pennsylvania, based in Pittsburgh. Margie Becker, executive director, describes the two-decade-old, tax-exempt organization as "a crisis-intervention service to help women faced with a problem pregnancy to make a decision they and their babies can live with. We are a pro-life organization."

To abortion-rights activists, the allocation is "a sham set up to funnel money into anti-choice organizations," said Joan Cooms, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

"The goal is to keep women from choosing abortion."

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