Tuesday, July 1, 2003

NEW ORLEANS — A group of pro-life delegates to the National Education Association’s annual convention dominated a hearing yesterday on resolutions with appeals for the country’s leading teachers union to stop advocating abortions for teenage students.

“We’d like it if the NEA would stick to education issues [with its yearly public policy resolutions] and not promote abortion with the words ‘reproductive freedom’” in a resolution on family planning, said Judy Bruns, a junior high school language arts teacher from Coldwater, Ohio.

“Our concern is not to get the NEA to become pro-life,” said David Kaiser, an elementary school guidance counselor from Fort Recovery, Ohio, who said they have urged NEA delegates to drop the family-planning resolution for the past 10 years.

“We felt from Day One it is inappropriate for the NEA to take a position on this. It does imply the right to choose abortion,” Mr. Kaiser said.

The resolution on family planning states: “The National Education Association supports family planning, including the right to reproductive freedom. The association urges the government to give high priority to making available all methods of family planning to women and men unable to take advantage of private facilities. The association also urges the implementation of community-operated, school-based family planning clinics that will provide intensive counseling by trained personnel.”

Delegates from California, Kentucky and New York also asked for the “reproductive freedom” language to be dropped. Some said that in the past NEA officials said it meant support even for “partial-birth abortion.”

During the hearing attended by more than 400 NEA delegates, Mr. Kaiser asked Shirley Cherry of Middletown, R.I., chairman of the NEA Resolutions Internal Editing Committee, what “private facilities” the resolution referred to.

“I am not prepared to answer that question to you at this time,” Mrs. Cherry responded.

More than one-fourth of 30 speakers were pro-life delegates who pleaded with fellow delegates to be consistent with calls for tolerance, diversity, respect for religious views of all people, and human rights for the unborn.

About 9,000 NEA members elected by their school districts and state NEA affiliates arrived here Monday and yesterday for the weeklong convention, which ends Sunday. However, many were delayed Monday by Tropical Storm Bill, whose high wind gusts, rain and isolated tornadoes caused delays and canceled flights at New Orleans International Airport.

During the past year, the NEA’s resolutions committee has compiled more than 300 policy positions that take stands on a wide variety of contentious issues not related to education, including advocacy of homosexual and transgendered lifestyles, and criticism of capital punishment.

During a hearing break, Mrs. Cherry defended the NEA’s practice of taking policy stands on economic, social and foreign policy issues.

“As educators, everything is related to our children, and we have to look out for the best interests of our children, students and educators,” she said.

Several NEA resolutions call for acceptance and nondiscrimination regarding any “sexual orientation/gender identification,” and say education programs and activities “must increase respect, understanding, acceptance, and sensitivity toward individuals and groups in a diverse society composed of such groups as … gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered persons, and people with disabilities.”

All schools should provide counseling “for students who are struggling with their sexual orientation and/or gender identification,” another resolution states.

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