After Battle, Senate Blocks Reauthorization of Titles X, XX
Washington--After a heated debate about the right of minors to an abortion, the Senate last week blocked legislation that would have reauthorized both a controversial program aimed at preventing teenage pregnancies and the primary federal grant program for family planning.
The bill, S 110, would have reauthorized for five years Title XX of the Public Health Service Act, dubbed by some as the "chastity act." Neither Title XX, nor Title X, the federal program for family-planning clinics that would have been funded by the bill, have been formally reauthorized since 1985, but the Congress has continued to fund both programs.
This is the first time in five years, however, that the bill has made it to the floor of either chamber. And despite its defeat, both measures are expected to be funded for fiscal year 1991, Congressional aides said.
"I am extremely disappointed with the outcome," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and the bill's sponsor, after the Senate rejected a move to limit debate on the proposal, effectively killing the measure. "There are millions of low-income women in our country who depend upon these services in order to avoid unintended pregnancies."
Previous reauthorization attempts for Title XX have been mired in a continuing debate over whether grant recipients should be permitted to offer abortion counseling and provide services to minors who do not have the consent of their parents. The reauthorizaton of Title X has been held up by similar arguments.
The Title XX 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.
Clinics that receive Title X funding, which came to $136 million this fiscal year, have 5 million clients, one-third of whom are adolescents. Teenagers do not need their parents' permission to use these services.
Under regulations promulgated by the Reagan Administration in 1988, these clinics are not allowed to provide any information or counseling on abortion to patients. The rules have been challenged in court, and the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue during its new session.
Before scuttling S 110, which funds no abortion-related services, the Senate adopted two amendments concerning abortion rights.
Under one amendment, Title X clinics would have been required to notify the parents of pregnant minors seeking abortions at their facilities at least 48 hours before the procedure. Under the other amendment, Title X clinics would have been allowed to provide abortion counseling to patients.
An alternative bill to reauthorize Title XX, sponsored by Mr. Kennedy and adopted by the Labor and Human Resources Committee last year, never made it to the Senate floor. Aides said the bill, which would have allowed teenagers to receive services without their parents' permission and would have allowed grant recipients to distribute contraceptives if no other family-planning services were locally available, was considered too controversial.