In an effort to inform its students about current local reproductive health care issues, the Center for Health Policy and Ethics sponsored its first forum of the year Wednesday afternoon at the Yale School of Nursing.

About 25 students and faculty came to hear guest speakers Susan Yolen and state Sen. Toni Harp speak about funding for reproductive health care and Connecticut’s current reproductive health care policies and programs. Yolen is the vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Connecticut, the largest provider of reproductive health care in the state.

Yolen focused most of her discussion on Title X, a fund granted in 1970 that allocates about $250 million annually to family planning.

“This grant, ever since the Reagan years, has been a pingpong ball of controversy in Congress,” Yolen said.

Yolen said abortion and non-directive options counseling — when a practitioner and a pregnant patient discuss all of her options prior to birth — lie at the heart of the controversy. It is illegal for Title X grants to be used to fund abortions. During President George H.W. Bush ’48 time in office, the Supreme Court ruled that if clinics talk to patients about abortion, they are not eligible for Title X grants.

But Yolen said non-directive options counseling was not synonymous with abortion.

“We talk to woman about what they can do — certainly suggesting prenatal care, certainly suggesting adoption, but also talking about abortion,” Yolen said.

While the Supreme Court’s “gag rule” has not been fully enforced in the United States, President George W. Bush ’68 has prohibited American funding for international organizations that provide non-directive options counseling. Bush has yet to institute a domestic gag rule.

Harp then gave a speech called “Democracy 101” about the bureaucratic aspects of passing reproductive health care legislation. She noted that women’s issues were particularly important after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and that she is concerned the attacks will reduce the country’s level of democracy.

“If this experience [Sept. 11] takes us back just a little bit, then they’ve won,” Harp said.

Harp said Connecticut has been one of the most progressive states in terms of reproductive rights but also expressed anxiety over Gov. John G. Rowland’s desire to cut funding from many Democratic programs after Sept. 11. Rowland is seeking to cut $22 million of a $50 million grant to rebuild the mental health program in Connecticut.

Harp questioned whether the cuts needed to come at the expense of health care programs.

“I don’t think he has the legal ability to hold back on this program,” Harp said.

Both Yolen and Harp addressed the importance of nurses in the fight for comprehensive reproductive health care.

“It is important for [nurses] to have a position on policy and overall health care issues,” Harp said. “[Nurses] know more about health care as it relates to the people [they] care for and the institutions [they] work for.”

The forum marked an increasing desire of the School of Nursing to involve both its students and members of the University at large in a discussion about health care issues. Later in the year, the Center for Health Policy and Ethics will sponsor forums on health ethics and the financial aspects of health care collaboration.