IN one stroke, the United States Supreme Court has thrown the
women's movement into a frenzy, federally funded family-planning
clinics into crisis, and pro-choice advocates in Congress into high
gear. It has also raised questions about the rights of people and
organizations that accept federal funds.
The court's 5-to-4 decision last week to uphold a US government
regulation that forbids federally financed clinics from discussing
abortion means that 4,000 facilities around the country face a
choice of limiting their speech or giving up their subsidies.
Funds or information?
Some clinics announced immediately that they will do without the
funds rather than withhold information, saying they do not wish to
act "unethically" in their dealings with patients. But they hope
that legislation in Congress designed to override the court's
decision can be enacted before they would have to comply with the
ruling, made in a case called Rust v. Sullivan.
In the meantime, both sides in the emotionally fraught abortion
debate have stepped up their battle in the news media.
"The Supreme Court has rejected the bizarre concept that the
Constitution or `medical ethics' require that abortion be treated
the same as contraception," said Douglas Johnson, legislative
director for the National Right to Life Committee.
Mr. Johnson called the decision "a defeat for those organizations
that demand tax dollars to promote abortion as a `family-planning
Faye Wattleton, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation
of America, said after the ruling was announced: "We see (the May
23) landmark decision of the Supreme Court an outrageous and
unimaginable blow, not just to women and clinics, but to free speech
in this country."
The regulation requires clinics that receive federal Title X
funds - the part of a 1970 law that finances and regulates clinics -
to refer pregnant patients for prenatal care. If a woman asks any
questions about abortion, such as where she can get one, the
counselor or doctor is required to state that the clinic "does not
consider abortion an appropriate method of family planning."
For three years, court orders have prevented the regulation,
announced in 1988 under the Reagan administration, from being
implemented. Now the way is clear for enactment, which will take
place in about two months.
The only way the regulation can be overturned is through
congressional legislation. In the Senate and the House of
Representatives an amendment has been introduced to the bill funding
Title X, which currently provides $141 million - $30 million to
Planned Parenthood alone - to clinics that serve some 4 million
women a year.
The amendment, introduced by Sen. John Chafee (R) of Rhode Island
and Reps. Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon and John Porter (D) of Illinois,
states that clinics should provide pregnant women with
"non-directive information about prenatal care and delivery,
adoption, foster care, and termination of pregnancy. …