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Contraceptives beat aspirin with voters.

Contraceptives Beat Aspirin With Voters

The temptation is to say that the big winners on election night were condoms in the schools.

But I am advised by state Sen. Mike Beebe of Searcy, the Henry Clay of the state legislature, meaning the great compromiser, that such flippancy would be counterproductive to a fair and dignified discussion of the important issue.

He is right, of course.

But I am, too.

A big winner this year, from the primary through the general election, was the idea that the state must boldly address the teenage pregnancy crisis that perpetuates the poverty cycle of the underclass and stifles Arkansas's hopes of societal, cultural and economic development.

Take the governor's race as a prime example.

Gov. Bill Clinton, in a seemingly rare display of courage and conviction, adamantly maintained his support for the concept of school-based health clinics that would, as an option, provide contraceptives. He spoke glowingly of the five school districts now offering those services.

Sheffield Nelson adamantly maintained his opposition to the concept, asserting in paid advertising that his and Clinton's views of school-based health clinics demonstrated a clear voter choice. He advocated school health clinics that would house a little cot where kids could lie down when they felt bad. A nurse could hand out aspirin, but no birth control pills, under his plan.

Who won?

Clinton beat Nelson. Contraceptives beat aspirin. It wasn't even close.

Perhaps you accuse me of over-simplification. Perhaps you suggest an isolated case. Perhaps you suggest that Nelson ran a miserable race and lost for that reason.

Perhaps you are right, except in the part about this being an isolated case.

Supported Clinics

Go back with me to the Democratic primary in May, when court-ordered redistricting forced two Pine Bluff state senators -- Knox Nelson and Jay Bradford -- to run against each other.

Bradford is a liberal sonofagun. He was the chief legislative advocate in 1988 for the school health clinic plans championed by Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the eloquent state health director.

Nelson is a conservative sonofagun who was against anything that wasn't good for highway contractors, his oil company or the state prison system.

Nelson attacked Bradford on the health clinic issue. He did so in heavy radio advertising.

Who won?

Bradford, by more than 60 percent.

Perhaps you suggest that we are talking about a heavily black Senate district where Dr. Elders' ideas would be more popular than usual. You would be wrong. Only a small part of Pine Bluff was in the new district. Most of the district was up in Lonoke County, heavily white and thought to be conservative, a haven for white flighting from Pulaski County. Bradford carried Lonoke County almost as overwhelmingly as he carried Jefferson County.

"My polls showed about 50-50 on whether it hurt or helped me," Bradford said last week. "It was a washout."

He figures his friend Clinton found out the same thing in polls. "You and I both know how much he polls in a campaign, and he never backed down on the school health clinics. That tells me he believes in them. It also tells me that he knew it didn't hurt him politically to say so."

Beebe, up in conservative White County, said much the same thing. Searcy has a thriving health care industry, two strong hospitals at a time when small-town hospitals are going out of business. "The medical community up here, which had never been for Bill Clinton very much, was lined up behind him this time, and it was because the health care professionals understand that we have to do something about teen pregnancy and childhood health care," he said.

So what does this portend for the legislative session beginning in January?

Not much, probably. The fact is that current state policy allows local school districts to decide for themselves whether to open the types of school-based health clinics advocated by the Clintons, Bradfords, Elderses and Beebes. A legislative fight will arise only if the opponents of the clinics introduce legislation to ban such clinics altogether. The fact is that the state Health Department already has the federal money to help local districts open and operate such clinics.

"I think more and more districts will go to them," Bradford said. "They already are talking about them."

Indeed the election results almost seem to mandate them.

The trend is in that direction, at least, so long as attitudes aren't influenced by flippant characterizations of the issue.

So I won't say that condoms in the schools were the big winners election night.

I only said it in the first place to get your attention.

The fact is that school is the only possible place many underprivileged kids can get counseling about pregnancy. The fact is that Arkansas has a vested and moral interest in trying to keep its children from giving birth to children.
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Title Annotation:Arkansas
Author:Brummett, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 19, 1990
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