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Johnson County backs out of pregnancy-prevention grant

A $300,000 grant to fight teenage pregnancy was rejected Thursday by the Johnson County Commission after it had approved it by a slim margin May 20.



The vote Thursday was 5-1, with Commissioner Ed Peterson of Fairway casting the only vote in favor of the grant.

Commissioners objected to Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, an abortion provider, being the lead organization in the federal grant.

“The problem is really Planned Parenthood,” Peterson said. “That’s the elephant in the room.”

It is rare that the County Commission is asked to deal with the issue of sex education.

Planned Parenthood is seeking a share of a $75 million federal grant to reduce teenage pregnancy. Sharing in that grant, if Planned Parenthood were to get it, would be the Unified Government’s Wyandotte County Health Department and the YWCA of Greater Kansas City.

The Johnson County Health Department had sought commission approval to join in the grant. It was approved by a 4-3 vote on May 20.

But commissioners who voted in favor of it then indicated they believed Johnson County would be independent of Planned Parenthood in how the funds would be used. Since that vote, commissioners were given a “memorandum of understanding” between the parties that left the county’s independence in doubt.

Commissioner Ed Eilert of Overland Park, who originally voted for the grant, asked commissioners to reconsider the May 20 vote. The commission approved that action Thursday and then voted to reject the grant outright.

Lougene Marsh, the county’s health department director, said that the county has run a program to combat teenage pregnancy for 10 years but that it has undergone severe budget cuts. State funding for the county program ended last year, she said, and it has been operating on a shoestring budget.

Peterson said rejecting the federal grant was abandoning the county program.

“Our focus should be on the young people who need this education,” he said.

In the public comment portion of the meeting Thursday, several abortion opponents raised objections to the grant.

“They are one of the world’s greatest abortionists,” said Don Hochandel of Olathe, referring to Planned Parenthood. “I don’t want any girl receiving advice from that organization.”

The funding would have supported a curriculum-based program to educate young people about responsible behavior, relationships and pregnancy prevention. A second program would have focused on youth development to reduce teenage pregnancy as well as risky behavior.

The county program would have centered on middle school students and health department clients in teen-focused clinics.

The Kansas Department of Health of Environment has reported that from 2006 through 2008, there were 1,600 pregnancies among Johnson County girls 19 or younger. Cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea have been rising since 2005. Marsh said Johnson County’s withdrawal as a grant partner could jeopardize the entire grant.

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, an organization opposed to abortion, said Planned Parenthood puts an emphasis on using condoms without discussing potential problems. She added that programs supported by Planned Parenthood undermine the authority of parents.

Supporters argued that the grant would address a critical problem.

Mark Dugan of Overland Park, representing MainPAC, an organization supporting abortion rights, told commissioners that 50 percent of teen pregnancies end in abortion. He said more education would reduce teen pregnancies and the number of abortions.

Annabeth Surbaugh, the commission chairwoman, said federal dollars shouldn’t go to private entities.

“If money should come directly to us, it would be a different deal,” she said.

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Tags: health, pregnancy
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