LUNGREN VS. DAVIS: Family Planning Opinions Could Affect Policy
McClatchy Newspapers political editor John Jacobs wrote in yesterday's Sacramento Bee that California's two leading gubernatorial candidates -- Dan Lungren (R) and Gray Davis (D) -- don't just disagree about abortion rights, they "also deeply disagree about family planning, especially as it applies to teenagers." When the topic came up in last week's debate, Davis said: "I want every child to make an informed decision. And I think it's important that they have information available to them about sex education, about family planning. (Y)oung people will make good choices if they have good information." Lungren said, "I don't think you ought to be required as a student, who is required to go to school, to have contraceptive devices presented at the school. You can have clinics where they can go elsewhere. So I am not against family planning, but I am against distributing condoms and contraceptive devices on school campuses, and I am against saying that parents do not matter." During the debate, Lungren also said he thought California should take advantage of the $7 million in federal funds for "abstinence training." Jacobs reported that afterward at a press conference, Lungren "said he would support contraceptive services for teens as long as they have their parents' consent."
But what alarmed Jacobs the most is that earlier this year Lungren said "he would restrict minors from obtaining state- funded birth control and ... would return to the approach that former Gov. George Deukmejian (R) used." According to Jacobs, "Deukmejian cut funding for family planning programs and sought every year to restrict state funding for abortion services," actions that caused the state teen pregnancy rate to "jump." He contends, "The Davis-Lungren disagreement is thus more than a dry debate about social policy or some attempt by either candidate merely to exploit this issue for votes. There are huge policy consequences. Teen births began to soar in California when the Deukmejian cuts took hold." While Jacobs noted that the soaring rates were in keeping with overall national trends, the numbers are "dramatic." When Deukmejian first became governor "the birthrate was 51.4 per 1,000 females age 15 to 19, both in California and in the United States," while "six years into Deukmejian's administration, the rate had fallen to 50.6 per 1,000 nationally, but had jumped 55.2 in California," according to state and national health statistics. But when Pete Wilson became governor and reinstated funds for family planning, the state teen rate dropped "nearly 20%" five years into his administration. Kathy Kneer, director of Planned Parenthood of California, said, "We have never got straight answers from Lungren or a commitment to continue Pete Wilson's policies. ... Dan Lungren wants us to take federal abstinence money, which uses fear and misinformation to scare kids into abstinence." Jacobs concludes: "It's one thing to respect the rights of parents vis- a-vis their children's sexuality. That is surely important. It's quite another, however, to focus so closely on what you want in a perfect world -- abstinence -- that you wish away the social and economic costs of another teen pregnancy epidemic, and thus make it inevitable" (Jacobs, Sacramento Bee, 10/22).