Abortion Rivals Watch Kentucky Vote

In the latest skirmish over abortion, some anti-abortion activists want a Kentucky health board to reject federal funding because some of the money is used for birth control pills.

Both sides of the divisive issue were expected to be watching closely Wednesday when the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Board decides whether or not to reject Title X funding.

Title X provided nearly $170,000 this fiscal year to the health board, which serves four counties just south of Cincinnati. The money was used to provide contraceptives and related reproductive health care services to thousands of poor women.

Leading the push to reject Title X funding is Northern Kentucky Right to Life, which prides itself on its refusal to compromise. It has run newspaper ads asserting that contraceptives such as the IUD, Norplant, the "morning-after" pill — even the standard birth control pill — cause abortions.

"It's our argument that they are bad morals, bad medicine and bad public policy that should not be distributed to the public with taxpayers' dollars," said Robert Cetrulo, the group's president and a former U.S. magistrate.

Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, said the Kentucky board's rejection of the money would be a huge victory for the anti-abortion movement and a "blueprint for victory" in other communities.

On the other side of the issue, Elizabeth Cavendish, legal director for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said the debate shows that "pro-choice Americans cannot be complacent about fundamental freedoms such as the right to use contraception."

"It reveals the extremism of the anti-choice agenda," she said.

Board chairman Greg Kennedy predicted a close vote.

The showdown Wednesday night in Wilder could reverberate far beyond the northernmost corner of Kentucky, a heavily Roman Catholic area that is a hotbed of anti-abortion fervor.

It is almost unheard of for a community to reject Title X money. In one of the rare instances since the federal program was signed into law in 1970 by President Nixon, McHenry County, Ill., voted in 1998 to refuse the funding, though in that case the debate had to do with whether parents should be notified if their teenage daughters get contraceptives.

The health clinics overseen by the 29-member Kentucky board provide gynecological care for poor women, including pregnancy tests, breast exams and screening for sexually transmitted diseases.

Kennedy said the loss of Title X funding could prompt women to seek those services at other clinics where they could obtain contraceptives.

Not all abortion opponents have joined the cause. The National Right to Life Committee has taken no position. And not all the health board's anti-abortion members support giving up the family-planning money.

The effort by some anti-abortion activists to equate the standard birth control pill with abortion has drawn strong objections. About 10.4 million American women use the pill.

"Oral contraceptives are clearly just that — they are contraception," said Dr. Kimberly Alumbaugh, a Louisville obstetrician/gynecologist. "That means preventing conception. When one prevents conception, one doesn't have to worry about abortion."

Birth control pills prevent conception by blocking the release of eggs from a woman's ovaries. But if ovulation occurs and an egg is fertilized, the pill can prevent the fertilized egg from implanting because it alters the lining of the uterus. Some anti-abortion groups equate that to abortion.