Getting choosy

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It would be as if a group of people was given the Vienna Opera House to put on a show and all they could think to do was stand there and make fart jokes.

That's our Florida, at least sometimes. A tropical paradise, yet the insipidity of what's played out on this stage can be humiliating for anyone who shares the spotlight. The presidential election was embarrassing enough. Now we have the "Choose Life" license plates, which should read, "Choose Adoption," since that's what their proceeds go to fund.

So why they bear the politically flammable phrase "Choose Life" is anyone's guess. My guess is that pro-lifers are just so used to misconstruing things that they do it out of habit, even when they have a cause like adoption, which no one would argue with.

Adoption is a great cause; sponsoring ignorance is not. The problem with the funding for these license plates is that agencies which also include discussions of abortion as part of their educational efforts are ineligible to receive any of the funds.

The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy brought the issue to federal court in Miami last month, asking for the funding to be fairly distributed on the grounds that withholding it from organizations that discuss abortion violates First Amend-ment rights and separation of church and state. (The money has been going to such religious groups as Catholic Charities.)

"Bad girl, bad girl!" says Sue Idtensohn when we talk about the stigmatization and burden the state's policy puts on women who want to be informed instead of stupid. Sue is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando Inc. In the past six months, someone fired a .357 through her office window at 4 a.m., and the "Army of God" terrorized her staff with two anthrax scares. This is an office that hands out birth control. And condoms. And tests for cancer. And tries to educate people about options.

That people in our state are trying to suppress information that women have a right to, and would use publicly raised money to do it, is another shame on Florida. And it seriously pisses me off.

The rest of the story ...

So here, courtesy of an interview with Sue, is a summary of the presentation you would get if you went to a health-care organization that offered you all your choices, not just the ones religious conservatives want you to have:

"A woman comes in and she's pregnant. The options are, you can keep this baby, we'll get you into prenatal care. Do you have anybody to help you at home if you're 13 or 14? Is the father present? Are you financially going to be able to handle this? We really try to explain that this is a life-altering decision.

"If they'd like to give the baby up for adoption, that's certainly an option. If they're very concerned about having it go to a good family, we can see that that happens.

"We talk to them about abortion -- that it's a very safe procedure. We send them away and say, Ã?This is something you need to think about. But if you decide to have an abortion, we want to make sure you come back, and -- if you're going to continue to be sexually active -- that we put you on some kind of birth control so that this won't happen again.' Unintended pregnancies happen. Condoms break. Women forget to take their pills. There are, believe it or not, things like incest and abuse. We talk about that with them and what it all means.

"We refer them to a clinic" that performs surgical abortions or which offers the nonsurgical method, RU-486, the abortion pill, which is slightly more expensive. It's a very private matter," Sue says.

"Even if I knew you were here and I had held your hand," she says, she'd never let on. "We are very confidential."

Booked up

If you need some simple, accurate medical information -- not skewed, religious-nut misinformation -- about birth control, STDs, abortion or other sexual- health issues, the new edition of "Our Bodies, Ourselves" is a fine, reliable source. Yes, it shows my age that I often look to books for information instead of the web. For those more in tune to the 21st century, is the Planned Parenthood website for teen-agers. It discusses sexual issues and lots more, because, nobody's all about sex all the time. Not even me.

Anyway, there it is: information, which I'm proud as a Floridian, to offer. This state is my stage, too, and I'd like it to show at least some integrity. Whether you "Choose Adoption," "Choose Abortion," "Choose Parenthood" or "Choose Whatever," just get all the information first and then choose wisely.

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