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Senate Panel Passes 2 Conflicting Bills On Effort To Stem Teenage Pregnancy

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Washington--The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee last week adopted two conflicting versions of a controversial grant program aimed at preventing teenage pregnancies.

The program, Title XX of the Public Health Service Act, dubbed by some as the "chastity act," has not been formally reauthorized since 1985, but the Congress has continued to fund it.

Previous reauthorization attempts have been mired in a continuing debate over whether grant recipients should be permitted to offer abortion counseling and give services to minors who do not have the consent of their parents.

The program currently receives $9.5 million and supports 68 community-based service projects and 15 research projects that stress abstinence. Adolescents must have the consent of their parents to receive services, and abortion counseling is not permitted.

Last year, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the law's provision favoring the distribution of grants to religious groups and requiring that all grantees describe how they will involve religious groups in their programs. (See Education Week, Aug. 3, 1988.)

Committee members last week4voted unanimously to continue the program in its current form and at the same funding level by including it as an amendment in a bill, S 110, that would reauthorize the primary federal grant program for family planning.

That program, known as Title X, funds family-planning clinics and has not been formally reauthorized since 1985 due to ideological arguments similar to those that have blocked Title XX.

About one-third of the 5 million clients served by Title X clinics are adolescents. Teenagers do not need their parents' permission to receive these services.

The amendment to continue the current Title XX program was sponsored by Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, the ranking minority member on the committee.

He also successfully sponsored an amendment to S 110 that would allow clinics in Utah to receive $5.2 million over the next three years under another part of the Public8Health Service Act. Clinics in Utah are not eligible to receive Title X money because they require parental consent for minors.

At the same mark-up session, the committee members also unanimously approved a second version of Title XX. This version, S 120, was sponsored by Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, the committee's chairman. It would allow teenagers to receive services without their parents' permission and remove statutory language that favors religious groups.

Under the Kennedy bill, which authorizes $30 million for Title XX, grant recipients would be allowed to provide contraceptives if no other family-planning services are locally available.

An aide to Senator Kennedy said the committee took the unusual move of adopting both versions of the program in order to get Senator Hatch's support for the general family-planning bill, which was authorized for at least $547 million over three years.

"In some ways, they passed the buck, and staff will have to slug it out," the aide said.

The aide indicated that staff members were considering creating two separate grant programs, each following separate criteria.

Earlier, the committee had defeated an amendment to S 110 that would have prohibited the use of Title X money for school-based clinics.

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