By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
At that meeting, the board voted unanimously to suspend Planned Parenthood’s $291,000 grant for the rest of the fiscal year.
The fact that the TSR funds Planned Parenthood was receiving had not been used for abortions didn’t seem to matter. And the board did not discuss whether the county should continue giving TSR money to local private hospitals that also perform abortions, or to HCA itself, since the two remaining public county clinics refer pregnant patients to Planned Parenthood to discuss all of their options, including abortion.
That morning, Moorlach sent an e-mail to constituents: “Not to generalize, but when you contact a law firm that specializes in bankruptcies, they most likely will advise you to file for bankruptcy,” Moorlach wrote. “If you go to Planned Parenthood, they are most likely to recommend their specialized surgical solution, which they provide and are compensated for, which appears to be a conflict of interest.”
Planned Parenthood fought back, threatening to sue and gathering petition signatures from local supporters. In April, the board voted 3-2 to reinstate Planned Parenthood’s funding through June (Moorlach and Bill Campbell dissented) and to adopt a new set of policy rules for the next round of grant applications.
The new policy requires that HCA list all the clinics the agency approves for TSR funds and that the clinics specifically outline how the money will be used for direct medical services. Funds can no longer be used for any type of group-education purpose, which includes not only sex education, but also diabetes, cancer, dental and other types of group workshops given at other clinics. The new policy also includes specific caveats for clinics that perform abortions or give abortion counseling.
“The ability to use the money for what the clinics determine the needs are in the community has been hampered,” says Isabel Becerra, director of the Coalition of Orange County Community Clinics, a separate nonprofit that works with HCA and oversees the distribution of the TSR funds. “As a funder, the Health Care Agency is acting within their right to determine what the funding is being used for.”
Some clinics rely on the TSR funds for up to 30 percent of their budgets. Becerra says they can no longer use the funds for overhead costs, education services or case managers. “For the past eight years, it wasn’t restricted to this level,” she adds. “Clinics were allowed to design programs that they felt were necessary for their communities.”
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In the past month or so, Moorlach has shifted his rhetoric away from abortion, saying now that this is really about money and how it’s being spent in the county. “I came here to fight deficits, not abortions,” he says.
In a way, Moorlach has returned to his old fight over Measure H. Back in 2000, Moorlach, who was serving as county treasurer, had countered the initiative with Measure G, which restructured Measure H so that a significant amount of the health-care money for the poor would be used instead to reduce the county’s bankruptcy debt. The fight, which pitted Moorlach against Measure H proponent Todd Spitzer, a county supervisor at the time, was messy (see R. Scott Moxley’s “Behind the Smoke,” Nov. 9, 2000) and resulted in an overwhelming vote in favor of Measure H.
“There are programs where federal and state funding allow for providing abortions. It’s something we have to administer and can’t change. I serve on the Cal Optima board and have never made an issue of that funding,” he says. “Measure H is unique, and we do have control over where that money goes.”
But should that control be predicated on his and other supervisors’ personal moral beliefs? “Abortion funding is very divisive among constituents. If you’re going to have half of your constituents upset with it, then why are we there when we’re already providing sex education at the schools and have other critical needs?” he asks. “How do you justify it? I think that’s probably where most of us are coming from.”
Simply put, Moorlach doesn’t think Measure H money should go to Planned Parenthood for health and sex education—even if county employees and health-care organizations rely on such education. “We’re in a recession; the money goes to community clinics for family and specialty care for families. Is education for STDs and sex education a real high priority? Is that really where the money should be going?” He said no, and the board agreed with him.
He says this doesn’t mean he will block Planned Parenthood from receiving funds in the future if they meet the new criteria, which require clinics that perform abortions and are seeking Measure H funds to spend the money in a location where abortions are not performed and to financially separate the funds from money used for abortion services.
Being seen as tough on Planned Parenthood certainly plays well with Moorlach’s constituents. At a luncheon two weeks ago at the Pacific Club—an opulent, wood-paneled private establishment in Newport Beach—for the Family Action PAC, guest speaker Moorlach brought up Planned Parenthood. “It’s been like dealing with the demon from the pit,” Moorlach told the group of about 22, who politely chuckled and sent a soft wave of applause through the room when Moorlach told the story of how the HCA would now be more transparent in disclosing clinics that receive public funding, thanks to the work of the board and an unnamed “constituent” who had pestered him to look into the issue. Bucher, seated next to Moorlach, smiled wide.