Last month Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt vetoed a hotly debated sex education bill that would have required educators to teach abstinence-only sexual education.

Tuesday, Jane Fonda, fresh from an appearance at the Academy Awards, was in town and dropped the governor's name during a fund-raising banquet at the Doubletree Hotel.

"I would like to congratulate and thank Gov. Leavitt on his veto of the abstinence-only sex education bill. . . . There is no research to date that abstinence-only programs do anything to prevent risky sexual behavior," Fonda said.

In a keynote address, the longtime actress, activist and fitness guru offered her support for Utahns for Choice — founded in 1991 as the lobbying and political arm of Planned Parenthood.

Fonda, who is best known for her accomplishments in the entertainment industry, is an activist for the environment and women's rights.

And for pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood, Fonda's support adds some much needed muscle in the conservative Beehive State.

Utahns for Choice Executive Director Bev Cooper said she hopes Fonda's presence will further Planned Parenthood's fight to teach "medically accurate" sexual education and to provide free information and medical access to teens who want contraception and abortion without parental consent.

While a half dozen or so Utah Democratic legislators were on hand to show support for Planned Parenthood, the organization came under some fire from Republicans during the 2000 legislative session.

"What (Planned Parenthood) is doing is wrong," Sen. Parley Hellewell told the Desert News Tuesday, "it seems like they are promoting and wanting (teens to have sex) and why they would want kids to go out and do these sort of acts is beyond me."

Hellewell, R-Orem, cited a Planned Parenthood flier distributed at a Lehi junior high school picturing a naked man putting on a condom.

"If it was anyone else distributing those fliers, they would have gone to prison for handing out pornography. . . . You don't show somebody how to do something and then tell them it's wrong."

Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, who sponsored the abstinence-only bill in the Senate, said he was disappointed with the governor's decision to veto the bill.

"Obviously, abstinence is the best way to avoid pregnancy," he said Tuesday. "We felt like that was the only thing that should be taught in our schools."

Fonda told the Doubletree crowd that believing teens won't have sex is not a realistic expectation. She noted that many girls wanting abortions are victims of parental or familial abuse.

"The very girls that need it the worst are the very ones that aren't going to go to their parents for permission," she said.

Fonda also urged the crowd to petition national government leaders to support the United Nations' decision to acknowledge females' rights to have abortions regardless of parental consent and to keep abreast of pending Supreme Court cases involving abortion-related topics.