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Privacy should prevail

THE private conversation between a woman and her doctor should be free of the governmental interruption, ``Wait, you can't say that!'' Yet such an interruption is what the Reagan administration is proposing with its new rules for publicly funded family planning clinics. The rules would prohibit the staffs at these clinics from mentioning abortion as an option for pregnant women and girls. Even handing out literature dealing with the subject would be verboten.

The Department of Health and Human Services argues that it's simply enforcing a provision of the Public Health Service Act of 1970 that forbids funding for programs ``where abortion is a method of family planning.'' That provision, however, was intended to ban direct federal funding of abortion. It was never intended to dictate what health counselors could say to patients.

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More than 100 members of Congress have signed letters to the department protesting the rules. Their letters raise good points: that the rules amount to ``government censorship'' of health-care information; that professional ethics demand that all options, not just some, be explained to patients; that the rules would disproportionately affect poor women, who rely on the tax-supported clinics. The hail of lawsuits being filed by family-planning groups and state and city governments opposed to the new rules could have been anticipated. The administration needn't have deliberately added to the controversy on this subject.

The general right to an abortion has been decided in the court. The issue here is narrower, but important: whether the federal government should inject itself into the private realm of communication between doctor and patient, counselor and counseled. We think not.

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