In the bitter world of abortion politics, you'd think that family planning -- aimed at preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place -- would be the tide that lifts all boats.

You'd think that if someone truly believed abortion to be murder, they'd find common ground even with pro-choice advocates in such areas as education, counseling and the distribution of condoms and contraceptives if hundreds of those "murders" -- or just one -- could be staved off in advance.

Think again.

Last Friday in Jefferson City, attorney Jordan Cherrick, representing the state at the behest of anti-abortion forces in Missouri, asked Cole County Circuit Court Judge Byron Kinder for a permanent injunction against Planned Parenthood that would ban it from applying for or receiving funds from the state.

Even accounting for a lawyer's license to role-play as an idiot in the name of advocacy, that would seem a bit of a harsh sentence for an organization that has for decades fought against teen pregnancy, worked to stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and generally battled for women's health on a wide array of fronts.

But Cherrick is the new legal darling of "pro-life" legislators in Missouri, so his job is to fight for "life," no matter how many lives it costs. He has been thrust onto the scene by those folks -- for this case and another one defending the Legislature's "partial-birth" attack on Roe vs. Wade -- as a pinch-hitter for pro-choice Attorney General Jay Nixon.

No one should doubt Cherrick's tenacity on behalf of a horrible cause: He did, after all, represent the city of Ladue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in its unsuccessful effort to ban free speech by refusing to allow citizen Margaret Gilleo to post a sign opposing the Persian Gulf War.

So it's not too shocking that Cherrick went for the superlatives in attacking Planned Parenthood for an alleged "massive failure to comply" with state law prohibiting family-planning money to be used for abortion services. He is also seeking a "declaratory judgment" from Kinder stating that Planned Parenthood does not qualify for state family-planning funds.

Planned Parenthood denies Cherrick's charges, maintaining that its family-planning services, which have gone on for decades, and its abortion services, which have been provided since 1996, are carefully separated. The organization argues that no state funds are used for its administrative costs, much less abortion services, and there is no sharing of clinic space between its divisions.

Let's face it, though. Stupid and costly lawsuits over abortion have become an annual tradition of the "pro-life" legislators -- it's just what they do -- so it's a bit of a mistake to get too serious about the technical merits of the latest mountain of litigation.

This is simpler than that. This is about getting Planned Parenthood, women's-health issues notwithstanding.

Cherrick didn't return calls for this story, but there's no way his professional obligations would have permitted candor, anyway. On the other hand, Sam Lee, who as director of Campaign Life Missouri is one of the key pro-life activists in the state, had no problem being blunt about what's going on here.

"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.

"They are the ones who hire lobbyists to oppose our bills and they, more than any one group in Missouri, are in the forefront of activism against us, filing suits against our laws and promoting laws we're against. Taking the totality of what Planned Parenthood is, we find it unconscionable that any state funds would be going to them."

Lee says the anti-abortion side has not tried to fight Gov. Mel Carnahan on the overall issue of family-planning dollars, only on how the dollars are spent. Carnahan has made a major priority of family planning since taking office in 1993, raising state funding to $6.5 million annually from the next-to-nothing level he inherited from his predecessor, John Ashcroft.

It's news to Carnahan and pro-choice legislators that the pro-life side is so reasonable and supportive of family-planning spending.

"They may say they're OK with family planning, but their actions over the years have demonstrated otherwise," says Carnahan spokesman Jerry Nachtigal. "They don't care about Pap smears and pelvic exams for poor women. All they care about is their stealth campaign to end women's abortion rights."

Adds state Rep. Joan Bray (D-University City): "I think they're very sly about how they pick their fights. They have fought family planning by linking it to abortion and then targeting Planned Parenthood. They're always throwing up roadblocks to women."

Interestingly, Lee makes no secret of the desire to get around the courts' insistence that one organization not be targeted by the legislature. He believes that the current case is the best opportunity yet to get at Planned Parenthood.

"It has admittedly been a difficult and complex struggle over seven years to get courts to agree with this," Lee said.

Whether the anti-abortion side finally has hit pay dirt remains to be seen. Kinder promises a prompt decision, but the obligatory appeals will undoubtedly prolong this into at least the next millennium. As is always the case on abortion issues, the battle rages on as bitterly as ever.

In the meantime, Planned Parenthood's fact sheet proclaims, "The Missouri Family Planning Program works!"

Since 1994, the group claims, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region has served more than 3,400 low-income women through the program. In that period, they say, teen births have dropped by 32 percent in the city and 14 percent in the county.

Planned Parenthood also trumpets this five-year statistic from the Missouri Department of Health: "The number of abortions has decreased statewide by 16 percent."


That good news seems to matter more to Planned Parenthood than it does to the people who would put it out of business in the name of life.