Man With a Plan

With a Republican in the governor's office -- a Republican who, during his 1998 campaign, told the Christian Coalition he supported banning tax money from going to organizations that provide abortions -- and Republicans dominating both sides of the Colorado Legislature, I thought by now we'd be teaching creationism in all of our public schools. Didn't Adam and Eve found their baby under that apple tree?

Instead, we have opt-in sex education hidden away in Bill Owens's education-reform package.

As for those kids whose parents opt them out of sex-education classes, they'll be able to deposit unwanted babies not in the Garden of Eden, but at a friendly local firehouse.

Unless, that is, they make their way to Boulder one Saturday and learn how to plan ahead.

Five years ago this month, the Boulder Valley Women's Health Center established a free Saturday clinic for teens -- boys and girls alike -- where they could get testing and treatment for infections, HIV screening and counseling, birth control (including pills, Depo shots, condoms and diaphragms), pregnancy tests and emergency contraception (or morning-after pills, in less politically correct terms) -- but never abortions. Although the popular center had always offered such services during regular hours, confidentiality occasionally was a problem: Teens ran the risk of running into their teachers, or their friend's moms, or even their own moms. But now from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturdays, the clinic is reserved just for them; any parent who comes in with a child has to wait in a separate room.

On an average Saturday, the clinic sees about 25 teens -- up from nineteen a year ago. They hear about the clinic through through friends, through the eleven teens who serve on the center's advisory board. The majority of the boys are there to be tested for infections; the majority of the girls for pregnancy tests and birth control. With any luck and a lot of education, they'll also learn how to avoid future visits -- unless it's for annual exams, which are also free.

But there are always more kids to take their place -- even after the state cut the clinic's funds.

Last August, Jane Norton, Owens's new executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, announced that her department was changing the way it administered contracts to provide women's health-care services. Not only had there been no competitive bid process for twenty years, she said, but those contracts could be in violation of a 1984 amendment to the Colorado Constitution that prohibited any state monies going to abortion. So this time, she vowed, "to be eligible for state family-planning funding, an applicant must be able to show that none of the state funds it would receive from the State of Colorado would be used to pay for or otherwise reimburse, directly or indirectly, any person, any agency, or facility for performing an induced abortion. Therefore, a person, agency or facility that performs induced abortions will not be eligible to receive state family-planning funds."

Of the two dozen programs that had been receiving state funds to provide health care for women in rural Colorado, fourteen would be affected by Norton's new edict. Thirteen were run by Planned Parenthood, which makes no secret of the fact that it provides abortions. The fourteenth was part of the Boulder Valley Women's Health Center, founded in 1973 (in the wake of Roe v. Wade) as an abortion clinic -- although it soon added many, many more health-care services, including the teen clinic.

Although neither PP nor the BVWHC had used state funds to terminate pregnancies since the state constitution was amended -- if ever -- they still had to change their way of doing business if they wanted to be eligible for this round of grants. It didn't matter that the state auditor had done a performance audit of the health department's family-planning program just the year before, and determined that even the BVWHC, which performed abortions on site, still appeared to operate within the letter of the law because "induced terminations are done on days when family-planning patients are not on the clinic premises; both medical records and financial accounting for induced terminations are separate from family-planning records; while we did not conduct financial audits of these clinics, accounting information showed that there are no state funds that support induced termination procedures."

This time around, the state auditor's seal of approval would not be enough for Norton. So both Planned Parenthood and BVWHC set up separate corporations -- Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains Services Corporation and Women's Choice of Boulder Valley, respectively -- through which any abortions would be offered. PP even located those services in facilities separate from the rest of PP's services. But Boulder couldn't do the same -- it only had one building.

That proved to be the BVWHC's downfall. When the state finally announced the 22 winning bids to collect $1.2 million in women's health-care funds, Planned Parenthood wound up with the same contracts it had been getting for years -- a total of $319,000 divided between thirteen clinics that serve about 15,000 women in rural Colorado. But PP only got that money, Norton said, "after the organization demonstrated that not one penny of these funds would be used to fund abortions or to support abortion services."

The Boulder Valley Women's Health Center, on the other hand, "repeatedly refused to provide proof of legal separation of its abortion services from family-planning operations." Since it hadn't managed to come up with separate facilities, the BVWHC was the only bidder to lose out on state funds. But the BVWHC had also been the only bidder to request funds earmarked for Boulder. Finally, at the suggestion of none other than Bill Owens and with the BVWHC's support, Planned Parenthood applied for and got that contract.

Meanwhile, the loss of state funding sliced 12 percent off the BVWHC's budget -- including a $5,900 chunk of the teen clinic's $50,000 budget. "The governor was successful in his efforts to cut all of our family-planning money," says Kat Allen, youth services director. "That's $44,000 per year -- and we can't apply for another five."

But while the BVWHC may not be too popular at the governor's office, it's found tremendous support in the community. Federal funds continue to come in through Title X; the City of Boulder has increased its funding, Allen says, including $15,000 earmarked for the teen clinic; United Way, the Women's Foundation and the Gill Foundation are major supporters. The center has even hired a development director so that it can withstand any more politically motivated funding purges.

And so, the BVWHC's teen clinic has been able to mark its fifth birthday as a real time of celebration. Since April 1, 1995, the clinic has been visited 3,376 times -- without an abortion in the bunch. "Primary prevention is what this is all about," says Allen. In fact, this month the BVWHC will receive the Colorado Organization for Adolescent Parenting, Pregnancy and Prevention's "outstanding organization" award.

Not receiving that same award: Colorado legislators who are currently pushing a bill to ban the use of fetal tissue in scientific research, claiming that it's being sold by ruthless profiteers (even though federal law prohibits such sales, and the only tissue being used in Colorado is donated for critical research in treating Parkinson's and juvenile diabetes). And the Colorado legislators who this week are debating the "fetal personhood" bill. And the Colorado legislators who would like us to think that license plates that proclaim "Respect Life" refer to Columbine, and not to the Catholic Church's pro-life campaign. And the Colorado legislators who want to make sex education optional. And the Colorado legislators who think letting firefighters collect abandoned babies is a good way to douse the state's escalating teen birth rate.

And even the Colorado governor, who'll take on Barbara Walters over her kid-glove treatment of the parents of one murdered six-year-old -- but cut the allowance of a clinic that helps hundreds of other kids.


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