Support for Tel-Link Strong
March 5, 1996
By: Kimberly Lohman
State Capital Bureau
It's not often you find consensus among advocates and opponents of abortion rights. Legislators and lobbyists agree that women seeking abortion or prenatal care services deserve access to information, but they disagree about who should provide it.
One support system -- the Health Department's Tel-Link program -- is praised by the Governor, Planned Parenthood, the Missouri Catholic Conference, and many legislators.
Kimberly Lohman tells why support for the program is universal while its expansion is controversial.
First on Governor Carnahan's list of family health initiatives is the Health Department's Tel-Link program, a one eight hundred number that refers families to a number of health care services. The Governor wants every woman needing help with pregnancy to have access to voluntary, confidential, and reliable information about her options.
Since the program began in 1991, twenty-two thousand Missourians have called one eight hundred Tel-Link for help. Peggy Henderson has been a Tel-Link operator for four and a half years.
Henderson says the job requires a certain amount of insight on her part.
The Governor's budget proposal would financially bolster Tel-Link's advertising efforts with an aggressive education and awareness campaign. Carnahan's spokesman, Chris Sifford, says he favors Tel-Link's approach to assisting women with health concerns.
Another proponent of Tel-Link is Planned Parenthood's Crystal Williams.
And just as Williams fears, Tel-Link's Henderson says many women have not consulted anyone.
Pressuring women to have abortions because of socio-economic factors is a prime concern of Missouri Catholic Conference lobbyist Lou DeFeo. Defeo supports funding to expand Tel-Link, because right now he says the program is only doing half its job. He wants Tel-Link to put callers in touch with a caregiver, someone who would consult women seeking an abortion to bring them, in his words, to the threshold of information about alternatives to abortion.
Currently, Tel-Link operators provide information about services for prenatal care, Medicaid, sexually transmitted diseases, and abortion. Again, Tel-Link operator Henderson.
DeFeo says Tel-Link's follow-up with callers should be more substantial. Because Tel-Link is anonymous, it is up to the caller to follow through. Henderson describes a desperate woman in labor who hadn't received any prenatal care and called Tel-Link for advice.
So far, support for Tel-Link is strong because of people like Henderson who care about the needs of women and families. But if beefing up the program means loss of anonymity through contact with a caregiver, controversy over motivations behind expanding the program may undermine further funding.
For Capitol Edition, I'm Kimberly Lohman.
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.