Misplaced Morality

There's nothing holy about the war on family planning

One of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan's finest legacies is the Missouri Family Planning Program, created in 1993, under which more than 100,000 low-income and uninsured women (and men) have received state help to complement federal family-planning efforts.

Now, it's about to be gutted.

Last week, the anti-family-planning movement -- masquerading as "pro-life" -- won a round in court when Judge Byron Kinder declined to rule against a bill passed this session that essentially makes its impossible for agencies to receive both federal and state funds. The case will be appealed to higher courts.

The saga lays bare the hypocrisy of the self-proclaimed pro-lifers. The warriors for the unborn aren't so committed to life that they'd compromise their own sense of morality -- opposition to distribution of condoms, for example -- even if it means preventing the need for abortion in the first place.

Apparently, protecting lives isn't quite as precious to pro-lifers as protecting public morals; the assault on the Missouri program follows a 13 percent drop in statewide adolescent pregnancy (according to the Missouri Department of Health) since its enactment. Closer to home, teen births have decreased by 29.7 percent in the city and 6.3 percent in the county since 1994, according to Citizens for Missouri's Children, a not-for-profit group).

The rate of abortion is zero among teens (and other women) who are not pregnant. That statistic appears to have been lost on the pro-lifers in their zeal to cut off public funding for family planning.

Actually, nothing seems to be as important to the moralists as the need to triumph over "ideologically driven federal bureaucrats and abortion groups who want to force the taxpayers of this state to fund and promote their pro-abortion agenda," in the words of pro-life activist Sam Lee, director of Campaign Life Missouri, in a May 10 Post-Dispatch op-ed piece.

Thus Lee launched his assault on family-planning programs, cleverly couched as nothing more than an effort to keep public funds from being used to kill the unborn. Painfully aware of widespread public support for family planning, Lee and his cohorts have always hid behind the anti-abortion fig leaf in their attacks.

Less than two years ago, Lee even claimed that his side had not fought against the essence of Carnahan's family-planning initiatives. All those lawsuits and legislative wars were aimed at a greater Satan.

"We're targeting Planned Parenthood because of their involvement in abortions," Lee told me. "As far as the pro-life movement is concerned, they have been our No. 1 nemesis in Jefferson City in promoting abortion and fighting our efforts to end it.... Taking the totality of what Planned Parenthood is, we find it unconscionable that any state funds would be going to them."

Certainly the pro-lifers took glee in Kinder's ruling last week that state law precluded Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds at all -- despite its efforts to keep those funds separate from its abortion services -- but they had to be even more delighted that he didn't touch their more recent legislative mischief, language in an appropriations bill that attacks other family-planning agencies as well.

With customary deceitfulness, the pro-lifers buried language in a budget bill -- safe from veto -- that makes it virtually impossible for recipients of state family-planning services to receive federal family-planning funds (generally more plentiful) as well. The gimmick: If agencies comply with federal Title X guidelines, issued last July, designed to assure full information to women (including abortion options), they will put themselves at odds with Missouri laws against abortion referrals.

Craftily, the pro-lifers avoided putting their state anti-choice passions at direct odds with federal law. Rather, they wrote in an impossible exception: Agencies could get around the conflict, but only if they got a written exception from the secretary of Health and Human Services (who just happens to be anti-choice) and only if the order was final and no longer subject to appeal and only if it threatened to deny federal funds.

In other words, Missouri family-planning groups can receive both federal and state funds, but only after hell freezes over.

For now, the pro-lifers seem content to aim their venom at poor women who have no insurance -- they're the ones primarily served by family-planning agencies -- but does anyone really believe that the anti-sex league will stop there? This unholy war is about more than abortion.

If this sounds like conspiracy theory, look no further for guidance than the nationally syndicated words of another local pro-life activist, Phyllis Schlafly.

"The time has come to redirect the millions of dollars Congress appropriates every year under Title X for so-called 'family planning' and put it instead into abstinence education ... which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and expected standard of behavior," she wrote last year.

Thank goodness for Mrs. Schlafly's candor. At least it explains what's really behind the stealth campaign to kill funding of family-planning programs in Missouri.

What it doesn't explain is the amorality of the self-appointed guardians of public morality.

Maybe these people really believe that a strategy that tells kids to just say no to raging hormones and sociological realities will eradicate teen pregnancy. More likely, they relish the pious sound of that message more than facing the cold realities of the real world.

Mel Carnahan, whose good work is in peril, never came off as a moralist. But he was as proud of the Missouri Family Planning Program as anything he accomplished in office.

That's morality.

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