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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.

Story:Kimberly Lohman

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.

Actuality:Peggy Henderson
OutCue: as much as possible
Contents: You can tell they've been crying, they're really afraid and nervous. What I try to do first is commend them for picking up the phone and saying I'm out here and I need help and I tell them if they'll stay on the line with me I will try to help them as much as possible.

Henderson says the job requires a certain amount of insight on her part.

Actuality:Peggy Henderson
OutCue: be aware of
Contents: not only do we have to listen to what they are calling about, as they provide information, I ask if they have other children in the family, have they had immunizations, well-child check-ups, and things she may not be aware of.

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.

Actuality:Chris Sifford
OutCue: to pursue that.
Contents: I think we are very supportive of the Tel-Link program and are supportive of this notion of a voluntary approach to providing women answers to their questions about health care as long as its voluntary, not coercive or mandatory, then it's an idea we can support. Now specifically the legislation you are talking about we haven't reviewed and don't have a position on but this type of program, the Tel-Link program, is something we're proud of and we're gonna continue to pursue that.

Another proponent of Tel-Link is Planned Parenthood's Crystal Williams.

Actuality:Crystal Williams
OutCue: in her pregnancy
Contents: There is strong support for the program, it just makes sense. We all agree on certain things, we agree that for women carrying pregnancy to term, prenatal care is of the utmost importance & women need to get in & start receiving that care very early in her pregnancy, and also if she has housing problems down the road, she may need employment training. This is the kind of program that could eventually help her get everything she needs and help her plan for the future of she and her child.

And just as Williams fears, Tel-Link's Henderson says many women have not consulted anyone.

OutCue: financial situation
Contents: you receive calls from women eight to nine months pregnant and have not had prenatal care and when you ask them why, the majority of them tell them they didn't have money to go to a doctor, didn't have health insurance, and just didn't know where to turn. And, it's very sad to hear things like that, the fact that people cannot get medical care because of their financial situation.

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.

Actuality:Peggy Henderson
OutCue: you the number
Contents: we will get a call from someone who is pregnant and thinking about getting an abortion. The way we answer calls like that is we tell them that we are not in a position to counsel you about abortion. It is very important that you talk with a health care provider to discuss your pregnancy and options. I can connect you with a prenatal clinic or give you the number.

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.

OutCue: number was available
Contents: I was really concerned about her and normally, I do not do call backs, but in this particular case, I asked her to please call me and let me know how you are. The next day she called me back and told me she delivered a healthy baby and she wanted to thank me for listening to her and was so happy the Tel-Link number was available.

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.

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