Women’s Groups, Hill Leaders Take On Bush Choice for Family Planning Post
November 22, 2006In a classic “say what?” moment last week, President George W. Bush appointed an anti-birth control, anti-sex education doctor to head the federal family planning program. The good news: leaders on Capitol Hill and national women’s health groups are pushing back. It’s a safe bet that President Bush would never appoint a doctor hostile to radiation treatment or chemotherapy to head the National Cancer Institute. Yet when it comes to issues concerning women’s or adolescent health, he routinely does the unthinkable. As the new deputy assistant secretary for population affairs, Dr. Eric Keroack will oversee the nation’s family planning program known as Title X. For more than 30 years, the program has provided comprehensive family planning and preventative care—such as birth control counseling and dispensing, pap smears, breast and cervical cancer screening, and STD screening and treatment—among other routine health care services to poor and low-income Americans. Despite being woefully under-funded, Title X provides care to more than 5 million women and men annually, preventing an estimated 1 million unintended pregnancies per year. What are Keroack’s qualifications aside from having a medical degree? None. Currently the medical director for A Woman’s Concern, a crisis pregnancy center that runs several clinics in the Boston area, Keroack has made his medical career about denying women the very care that Title X provides. Crisis pregnancy centers are notorious for being run by anti-abortion activists disguised as legitimate health care providers. These centers provide false and misleading information to women in an attempt to dissuade them from having an abortion. The Keroack centers do much more. Under his directive, A Woman’s Concern does not distribute, encourage the use of, or offer referrals for contraceptive drugs and devices. Instead, the center states that it will “pursue every opportunity to educate a sexually active client on the reasons why sexual purity is in her best interest.” Moreover, A Women’s Concern denigrates the use of contraception by falsely claiming that some birth control methods act as an abortifacient and that “distribution of birth control, especially among adolescents, actually increases ‘out-of-wedlock’ pregnancy and abortion.” A Woman’s Concern has received $2 million in federal taxpayer dollars over four years for an abstinence-only-until-marriage program in Massachusetts that employs such misinformation to discourage condom and contraceptive use among young people. Soon to be former Governor Mitt Romney has selected Healthy Futures, a subsidiary of A Woman’s Concern, to teach abstinence-only-until-marriage in the state’s public schools. “Rather than choosing someone who has a proven track record of support for family planning, this administration has gone out of its way to select a candidate who has made a career out of promoting abstinence-only education and appears to be fundamentally opposed to contraception,” said Marilyn Keefe, interim president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, which represents nearly 4,500 reproductive health clinics serving more than 4 million women annually. Keroack’s appointment, understandably, is causing quite a controversy in post mid-term election Washington, after the resounding rejection of the Bush Administration extremist agenda. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, says naming Keroack to oversee the family planning program “is striking proof that the Bush Administration remains dramatically out of step with the nation’s priorities.” Because Keroack’s new position does not require Senate approval, his appointment cannot be held up or rejected. Instead, the hope is that enough outside pressure will force the Administration to back down, much like it did when it tried to appoint a veterinarian to head the women’s health division of the Federal Food and Drug Administration. (And yes, I wish I was making that up.) So far, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) have sent letters to Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael O. Leavitt asking for Keroack’s removal, as did more than 25 national women’s health groups. At the grassroots level, the National Abortion Federation, NOW, Planned Parenthood, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, among others, have launched nationwide campaigns encouraging members to contact HHS and demand Keroack’s resignation. The Keroack appointment is just one of many moves by the Bush Administration that place its conservative and dangerous ideology above the public’s health. Unfortunately, most have been simply rubber-stamped by the Republican Congress and ignored by the media. However, if the Democrats finally learned from the recent elections that standing up to the President wins votes, they should feel empowered to reject the Bush agenda—and start by forcing Keroack out.