Abstinence Advocate Chosen For Family Planning Post

President Bush has chosen a longtime abstinence-only advocate to head the office that oversees federal funding for birth control, pregnancy tests, counseling and STD testing. Bush appointee Eric Keroack began his new job yesterday as the director of the Office of Population Affairs, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. Opponents are criticizing the choice of a man who has served for ten years as medical director of A Woman’s Concern, a non-profit that opposes birth control and abortion. Keroack’s appointment worries Susan Levy, executive director of Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center, which provides family planning services to low-income women.

“You’ve got to wonder if he’s going to be a very good advocate for the program he’s running,” Levy said. “This guy has been a huge proponent of abstinence-only.”

Keroack is now in charge of the Title X program, which funds family planning clinics and services across the country.

“Title 10 has been flat-funded for years,” Levy said. “Since Bush has been in office, they haven’t even done cost of living increases.”

Levy said Keroack’s appointment is not in tune with the message voters sent on Election Day. Voters struck down a sweeping anti-abortion law in South Dakota and a parental-notification proposal in California.

“It’s totally snubbing his nose at what I think the American people were saying about abortion,” Levy said of Bush’s decision. 

Keroack has called distributing birth control “demeaning to women.” He also authored a 2001 paper asserting that having multiple sex partners alters the brain and diminishes a woman’s ability to form loving relationships. Several researchers he cited in the paper have denounced Keroack’s interpretation of their work.

“It’s disturbing that he has misinterpreted the scientific paper and that the misinterpretation is consistent with his political beliefs,” one of the researchers said in a Boston Globe article.

Several Democrats in Congress and Planned Parenthood are urging HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt to revoke Keroack’s appointment.

Fourteen Senators signed the following letter to Leavitt:

Dear Secretary Leavitt:

We write to express our strong concern over the appointment of Dr. Eric Keroack to be Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs. In this position, Dr. Keroack will have control over funding of programs under Title X of the Public Health Service Act, and its important goal of providing factual information and nondirective counseling for a broad range of family planning and reproductive services, including contraceptives, to women in need, without regard to age, income, or marital status.

Dr. Keroack has made a career out of promoting abstinence-only education and appears to be fundamentally opposed to contraception, and his public statements indicate hostility to Title X. He serves as the medical director for five crisis pregnancy centers which are officially opposed to any form of contraception.

Dr. Keroack is also a vocal supporter of abstinence-only programs to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. He serves on the Medical Advisory Council of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse and is a member of the Federal Expert Panel commissioned to define the criteria and guidelines for grantees receiving funds under the Community-Based Abstinence Education Program, which, according to GAO provides information that may be medically inaccurate, and lacks proven scientific support. Although abstinence is an important component of comprehensive sexuality education, abundant evidence suggests that it is ineffective, unrealistic and potentially harmful to advocate abstinence as the sole option.

Unfortunately, this appointment is another example of the Administration allowing ideology to trump science, and it could jeopardize vital services on which large numbers of women and families depend. Given Dr. Keroack’s ideological record on Title X services, we urge you to withdraw this appointment and select a Deputy Assistant Secretary who will vigorously administer Title X as intended by Congress under current law.

The letter was signed by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Christopher Dodd (D-CT) Tom Harkin (D-IA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Harry Reid (D-NV), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Kerry (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Barack Obama (D-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

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