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SENATE PANEL BACKS MEASURE ALLOWING CLINICS TO DISCUSS ABORTION WITH CLIENTS

Despite the efforts of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a Senate panel endorsed a bill Thursday to overturn a Supreme Court decision that bans employees of federally funded family planning clinics from discussing abortion.

Hatch, ranking Republican on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, which passed the bill, 12-5, and sent it to the full Senate, said the real issue was not abortion, but whether Congress would uphold its own 1970 statutory ban on abortion discussions."When Congress created the Title X program (for family planning funds) . . . it included language prohibiting the use of Title X funds `in programs where abortion is a method of family planning,' " Hatch said.

"A lot of people feel that one reason we put this in the law was so that family planning services would not become a place where abortion would be the first choice," he added.

Hatch said advocating abortion within government-supported family planning centers "is just not the answer . . . These regulations (under Title X) do not restrict anyone from having access to an abortion."

Instead, he said, the regulations are merely to prevent federal funds from being used for abortion.

Quoting from the Supreme Court's argument, Hatch said, "Government may validly choose to favor childbirth over abortion and to implement that choice by funding medical services relating to childbirth but not those relating to abortion."

After several interruptions from Sen. Brock Adams, D-Wash., who argued that information about abortion isn't advocacy of abortion, Hatch said, "Look, the real issue here is this: Are we going to use federal funds for something that a significant portion of our population feels is morally and legally wrong?

"Frankly, I don't know anybody who thinks abortion should be a method of family planning."

In other congressional action:

- The regional Bell telephone companies could compete with AT&T in manufacturing telephone equipment for the first time under a bill approved by the Senate despite the threat of a presidential veto.

A provision that would prohibit the seven regional Bell telephone companies from running foreign manufacturing operations drew strenuous objections and a veto threat from the White House, but the bill still was approved 71-24. The margin was more than enough to override a veto.

The bill now goes to the House.

- House members voted 227-198 on Wednesday to keep their budget for letters, newsletters and targeted mailings at $80 million next year, rejecting an effort to pare the spending to $59 million - the same level as this year.

The money for lawmakers' mail was included in a $1.8 billion bill financing congressional operations for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The legislation was approved 308-110. The overall amount in the bill is $65 million - or 4 percent - more than is being spent this year.

- The House was slated to weigh the fate of NASA's planned space station Thursday, with supporters claiming the program is vital for this nation to maintain pre-eminence in space and foes claiming its pricetag cannot be justified.