Family-Planning Funds Election Issue in Kentucky

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Barbara Black

EDGEWOOD, Ky. (WOMENSENEWS)–In the fast-growing suburbs of northern Kentucky, a bastion of conservatism that lies across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, opposition to abortion has long been a public policy and political issue.

Now leaders of Northern Kentucky Right to Life Committee, the politically active and some say radical anti-choice group headed by lawyer Robert C. Cetrulo, are urging local officials to reject federal family-planning funds that provide birth-control pills and othercontraceptives to the region’s public health clinics. The campaign has even some of the most outspoken members of the local anti-choice movement standing alongside Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and women’s rights groups.

“This is an extremist view,” said Kenton County Commissioner Barbara Black, who has long been considered one of the area’s leaders of anti-choice causes.

“It’s a condemnation of the medical community for prescribing (birth-control pills), of pharmacists for dispensing it and even married couples for using it,” said Black, whose county is the largest of the three-county Northern Kentucky region, where the population has grown by 50 percent to more than 350,000 in the last 20 years.

Anti-Choice Backing Family-Planning Opponents in Mid-Term Elections

After failing earlier this year to convince the local board of health to refuse to accept the federal funds for providing family planning and reproductive health care, abortion opponents are gearing up to pressure local leaders into taking their side. Northern Kentucky Right to Life Committee will campaign on the issue in the November election, backing county candidates who say they will appoint people to the board of health who oppose the federal reproductive health care funding, said Fred Summe, vice president of the group.

“We’ll take this issue back to the voter and ask for accountability of elected officials and try to elect those who will uphold the sanctity of human life and parental control over children,” Summe said.

In June, Cetrulo and Right to Life saw an opening to get their way on the issue. For several years Cetrulo has been using his political influence to get those opposed to abortion appointed to the Northern Kentucky Independent Health District board of directors.

Earlier this year Cetrulo pushed for the board to reject the federal funds on the grounds that it pays for contraceptives–including the IUD and standard birth-control pills–that cause abortions, or are so-called “abortifacients.”

One of the ways birth-control pills prevent pregnancy is by changing the lining of the uterus to inhibit implantation of a fertilized egg. But since Cetrulo and his followers believe that life begins at conception, they see the pill’s affect on the uterus as snuffing out the life of the fertilized egg–in their view, an abortion.

“It makes poor public policy to pass out materials which kill unborn babies, promote promiscuity and have disastrous societal results,” Cetrulo said.

Rejecting Family Planning Funds Is ‘Bad Public Policy and Just Plain Wrong’

Cetrulo’s stance that birth-control pills cause abortions is hardly widely accepted in the medical community, said Black, a registered nurse who labeled Cetrulo’s argument “flawed.”

While she still opposes abortion, Black said it is “bad public policy and just plain wrong” to take birth-control pills out of public health clinics, which in many areas serve poorer segments of the local population.

Despite the region’s large Roman Catholic population (about one-third of residents are Catholic) and conservative political leanings (Republicans dominate the political landscape) many people in the region share Black’s beliefs on the matter.

During the debate on the issue over the summer, some health board members were concerned that refusing $170,000 in annual federal funds would have cut access not just to contraceptives but to other gynecological care–breast exams, screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and Pap smears–to 4,500 mostly low-income women.

According to the health district, 79 percent of the reproductive health program’s users in the region are women ages 18 to 35; 15 percent are 13 to 17; and 6 percent are 35 and older.

Health board member Darrell Link, who opposes abortion, does not favor refusing the federal funds “because there are people of low and moderate income who are absolutely dependent on those services.”

Accepting Federal Funds for Birth Control Approved in Close Vote

On June 20, in a three-hour meeting packed with more than 400 people, the health district voted 14-13 to reject the proposal to decline the federal money. Pro-choice groups applauded the vote.

Had the proposal passed, the community would have been the first in the nation to reject the federal health dollars allocated under Title X of the federal Public Health Service Act on the grounds that some contraceptives actually cause abortions.

“I’m glad they had the sense to keep this complete OB-GYN medical care for women,” said Kathy Helmbock of the Cincinnati chapter of NOW. “They realized that by getting rid of Title X they were setting themselves up for a whole lot more abortions and unwanted pregnancies.”

“We have enough image problems in Kentucky,” said Beth Wilson, head of the reproductive freedom project for the ACLU of Kentucky. “We don’t need to take this major step backward.”

But Cetrulo, disappointed by the vote but encouraged by the slim margin of defeat, vowed to continue the fight.

“It’s not over,” he said. “We’ll be back.”

Patrick Crowley is a political reporter and columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer and a freelance writer.

For more information:

Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department:
http://nkyhealth.org/nkyhdhw/hw.dll?pageandt=homepage

ACLU of Kentucky:
http://www.aclu-ky.org/

American Life League–Northern Kentucky Right to Life:
http://www.pro-life.net/associates/nkrtl.htm



Davis Signs Paid-Leave Bill for California

(WOMENSENEWS)–California Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation Monday allowing qualified workers to take paid leave of up to six weeks after the birth or adoption of a child or to care for sick family members or domestic partners.

California is the first state to enact paid family leave, which will be administered through the state’s disability insurance program starting in 2004. Although workers can take up to 12 weeks unpaid through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, surveys suggest that as many as 78 percent of workers nationwide who need family leave cannot afford to take it unpaid, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“This bill will make it easier for Californians to help their loved ones through a health crisis, without going broke in the process,” Davis said. “It sends a message around the world that California is pro-worker, pro-employer and pro-family.”

–Rebecca Vesely.

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