House Passes First Measure On Family Planning in 8 Years

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For the first time in eight years, the House has approved a bill that would reauthorize the primary federal family-planning program.

The vote, however, was 12 shy of a two-thirds majority, the amount needed to override a promised Presidential veto.

The bill, approved April 30, would also overturn the so-called "gag rule'' prohibiting workers other than physicians at clinics funded by the program, known as Title X, from counseling women about abortion.

The program has long been mired in controversy over the counseling issue and other abortion-related disputes, and has not been formally reauthorized since 1984. The Congress has continued to fund Title X clinics under emergency provisions.

Clinics have received about $150 million this year. The pending bill, which would reauthorize Title X through 1997, would authorize $180 million in fiscal year 1993, rising to $219 million in 1997.

About one-third of the 5 million women who use Title X clinics annually are teenagers, who do not need parental consent.

The Reagan Administration promulgated the gag rule in 1988, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it last year. In March, the Administration released a revised rule stating that the counseling ban does not extend to physicians. However, it applies to nurses and counselors, who provide primary care to a majority of clinic patients.

The 268-to-150 vote to approve the bill overturning the rule is one of the strongest showings abortion-rights advocates have ever mustered in the House.

Abortion foes decided to withdraw an amendment requiring minors using Title X clinics to notify a parent before they could have an abortion. The bill's backers said that the last-minute retreat indicates uncertainty about support for such a rule.

The current bill, HR 3090, must be reconciled with a Senate measure, passed last summer, which would overturn the gag rule, but would not reauthorize Title X.

The Congress failed to override Mr. Bush's veto of similar gag-rule legislation adopted last year after the Supreme Court ruling.

Observers said a bill is unlikely to reach the President's desk until next month.

Observers said there is unlikely to be any action this session on Title XX, dubbed by some as the "chastity act.''

The program has not been reauthorized since 1985, due to disputes similar to those that have blocked the reauthorization of Title X. But it still receives Congressional funding to encourage teenagers to remain chaste.

Vol. 11, Issue 34, Page 22

Published in Print: May 13, 1992, as House Passes First Measure On Family Planning in 8 Years
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