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Family-planning head leads anti-contraceptive group

The medical director of a Christian pregnancy counseling agency is chosen by the Bush administration.

November 17, 2006|Christopher Lee | Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has appointed a new chief of family-planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services who helps lead a Christian pregnancy counseling organization that regards the distribution of contraceptives as "demeaning to women."

Dr. Eric Keroack, medical director for A Woman's Concern, a nonprofit group based in Dorchester, Mass., will become deputy assistant secretary for population affairs in the next two weeks, department spokeswoman Christina Pearson said Thursday.

Keroack, an obstetrician-gynecologist, will advise Secretary Mike Leavitt on matters such as reproductive health and adolescent pregnancy. He will oversee $283 million in annual family-planning grants that, according to the department, are "designed to provide access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them with priority given to low-income persons."

The appointment does not require Senate confirmation.

The Keroack appointment has angered many family-planning advocates, who note that A Woman's Concern supports sexual abstinence until marriage, opposes contraception and does not distribute information promoting birth control at its six pregnancy service centers in eastern Massachusetts.

"A Woman's Concern is persuaded that the crass commercialization and distribution of birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness," the group's policy statement on contraception says.

Keroack could not be reached for comment.

John O. Agwunobi, assistant secretary for health, said Keroack was "highly qualified and a well-respected physician ... working primarily with women and girls in crisis."

A Woman's Concern President Mark Conrad said Keroack would be able to make the transition to leading a federal program in which the provision of birth control is an integral part. "I don't think it's going to be an issue for him," Conrad said.

The group helps women in unplanned pregnancies but discourages abortions, Conrad said. He said the decision was a woman's but "we do want to give her the opportunity to have all the information and the support necessary to choose life."

Marilyn Keefe, interim president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Assn., which represents 4,000 family-planning clinics, said Keroack's work seemed "to really be geared toward furthering anti-choice, anti-contraception policies."

The federal family-planning program, created in 1970, supports a network of 4,600 family-planning clinics that provide information and counseling to 5 million people a year. Services include patient education and counseling, breast and pelvic exams, pregnancy diagnosis and counseling, and screenings for cervical cancer, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that Keroack's appointment was "striking proof that the Bush administration remains dramatically out of step with the nation's priorities."

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