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Anti-Abortion Groups Blamed for Axing Nurse Funds in Mo.

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Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri blamed anti-abortion groups for killing a bill that would have continued state funding for school nurses who serve more than 200,000 students in public and private schools throughout the state.

In the final days of the legislative session this month, the anti-abortion majority in the House voted to attach an amendment to a health-services spending bill that would have restricted school nurses from counseling or referring students to agencies that perform abortions.

Under the amendment, school health workers would be allowed to make abortion referrals to licensed hospitals only in medical emergencies.

Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican who sponsored the amendment, argued that state funds should not be used in a way that makes "the state a sales agent for the abortion industry."

After lawmakers were unable to reach a compromise on the school-nurse amendment, sponsors withdrew the spending bill, thus killing it for the session.

"Anti-choice extremists are more interested in furthering their own narrow ideological agenda than with providing important health services to Missouri's schoolchildren," Governor Carnahan--a Democrat who favors abortion rights--said in a statement after the bill died.

State law already prohibits school nurses from counseling students about abortion. But school nurses sometimes refer young women to agencies that offer reproductive-health-care services, including abortion. The amendment would have prohibited school nurses from making such referrals.

Cuts in Nursing Services?

The bill's demise likely will mean a cut in existing health services for students unless another source of funding is found, according to Marc Farinella, the Governor's chief of staff.

The bill sought to increase funds for school health services under the state's general revenues. Since its adoption in 1993, the three-year, $5.4 million school-nursing program has been paid for through revenue from state taxes on cigarette sales.

So far, the state has provided grants for health services in 51 school districts and in 33 local health departments in areas where students do not have access to such services. The grants pay for school nurses, primary-care services, social workers, medical supplies, equipment, and program evaluations.

By this time next year, however, the grant money will be exhausted.

Mr. Farinella said the Governor is searching for another way to pay for the program. "There is something of a crisis, but we are trying to continue to fund it," Mr. Farinella said last week.

Not a Frill

Meanwhile, school nurses across the state are anxious about their jobs and the well-being of the students they serve.

"This a significant injury to children," said Joyce Nichols, a school nurse in the 315-student Lutie school district in Theodosia, Mo.

Ms. Nichols said she recently saved a student by administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The student, who is hypoglycemic, had had a seizure in class. Ms. Nichols said experience shows that school health-care services--especially in small communities with limited health-care options--are a necessity, not a frill.

"Kids fall and are bruised and battered, and with a school nurse, the health complications are reduced," Ms. Nichols said.

The Missouri Association of School Nurses, which strongly opposed the amendment, is concerned that the abortion debate is jeopardizing school nurses' ability to provide necessary health-care services for students.

"It's a purely political issue," Jean Grabeel, the president of the 400-member association, said. "This bill was not about abortion. It's about the health and welfare of our children."

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