Two programs that tell teens about abortion as part of family planning and human-sexuality counseling lost funds Wednesday as the Republican majority on the Salt Lake County Commission flexed its muscle.
Commissioners Mary Callaghan and Brent Overson voted to strip $13,000 from Planned Parenthood and $12,500 from the YWCA in social-service block-grant money for fiscal 1996. Planned Parenthood uses the money to help run a teen clinic in West Valley City. The YWCA money was a quarter of the funds for its Peer Approach Counseling by Teens program."It has been a very difficult situation, but this commission represents a party with a platform, and that platform has concerns," Callaghan said. "These two programs do at times - albeit if only a few times, but at times - present information that is counter to our platform."
Callaghan said later she specifically meant the Republican Party's opposition to abortion. The GOP platform includes a call for a constitutional amendment banning abortions.
Both programs present information about abortion as an option, she said.
"Therefore we're against funding those programs," Callaghan said. "We can not monitor how often that information is provided. Republicans do not consider abortion an option. It's a concern both here and nationally."
A coalition of conservative groups led by the Eagle Forum lobbied the commission to cut funds to the two programs. Other groups that spoke against the programs include Right to Life, Christian Action Council and Concerned Women for America.
"Planned Parenthood refers (women) for abortion, and I don't believe tax dollars should ever be used to refer for abortion," said Gayle Ruzicka, Eagle Forum president. Regarding the YWCA's teen peer-counseling program, Ruzicka said "young people counseling other young people is not appropriate." Ruzicka said information discussed during teen counseling sessions is extremely offensive.
While the YWCA requires the teen counselors to have parental consent to participate, the teens they reach don't.
"The parents don't even know about it, and I don't think we should spend tax dollars on those kinds of programs," Ruzicka said.
Ruzicka said her group learned only recently that the programs received the federal block-grant money. Planned Parenthood has received funding from the county for two years; the YWCA has received money for six years.
Commissioner Randy Horiuchi, the lone Democrat on the commission, called the decision an error in judgment and chided Callaghan and Overson for bowing to pressure from a "very special interest group."
"In my view, to deny young people at the most critical points, decision points in their lives, the opportunity for that kind of counseling help makes me incredibly sad," Horiuchi said. "This year we're reacting to an interest group that really does frighten me - who's not looking out for the best interests of young people, teens at the most crucial and critical time of their lives."
Horiuchi, who worked years ago as a Kearns High School teacher, said both programs have merit because they deal with education and prevention.
"To me it's not a pro-life/pro-choice debate. That's not the issue here, it's not a party issue," Horiuchi said. "It's when kids are facing the toughest choice of their lives are we going to provide an opportunity for competent counseling?"
Representatives for both Planned Parenthood and YWCA were stunned by the commission's decision.
Jane Edwards, YWCA executive director, said the grant was the major funding for the teen counseling program.
"It's very upsetting to me, especially when we know the population of our battered women's shelter and home for pregnant teens keep going up and the only way to reduce that is through prevention programs," Edwards said.
The Teen Clinic has provided education and medical services to 1,700 teens in the past two years, said Karrie Galloway, Planned Parenthood executive director.
"It's devastating," Galloway said. "We're going to have to see how and if we can replace the funding to keep the services available."
The bulk of public comment the county received about the programs, most specifically Planned Parenthood's Teen Clinic, was favorable. The county received, for example, 184 telephone calls from people supportive of the program and 98 opposed.
The county received letters or petitions favoring the program signed by 469 people. It received written comments from 63 people opposed to funding the programs.