New Family Planning Official's Views Criticized

President Bush appointed Dr. Eric Keroack as deputy assistant secretary for family planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services. Keroack is a Massachusetts gynecologist who works at a Christian pregnancy counseling organization. Critics say the doctor's views against contraception run counter to the mission of the agency he is supposed to head.

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Talk about more bipartisanship between the White House and the new Democratic Congress snagged a bit this week with President Bush's choice to head the government's family planning efforts. The president chose a Boston area gynecologist who works at a Christian pregnancy counseling organization. Critics contend that the doctor's views against contraception run counter to the mission of the agency he's supposed to head. NPR's Tovia Smith reports from Boston.

TOVIA SMITH: Dr. Eric Keroack has spent the past five years as medical director of A Woman's Concern, a chain of Christian pregnancy counseling centers based in Massachusetts. Depending on where you stand on the issue, he's either been a brilliant and effective pro-life advocate or an extremist using heavy-handed and unfair tactics meant to keep women from having abortions and getting contraceptives.

Ms. MARILYN KEEFE (National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association): This certainly strikes us as the fox guarding the chicken coop.

SMITH: Marilyn Keefe is head of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. She says it's outrageous to give the job of overseeing family planning to the head of an organization that calls the use of contraceptives demeaning to women. Keefe calls Keroack totally out of touch with the mainstream.

Ms. KEEFE: Most American women certainly don't find contraception demeaning. They find it part of their basic health care.

SMITH: Keroack has also drawn fire for his comments, for example, comparing premarital sex to heroin addiction and suggesting it makes people need more sex later in life and makes them unable to form healthy relationships. Keroack's organization has also angered some women by strategically setting up shop right next to abortion clinics. Several women say they've been deliberately tricked into coming into the Christian counseling centers. Dianne Luby is head of Massachusetts Planned Parenthood.

Ms. DIANNE LUBY (Massachusetts Planned Parenthood): They pretend that they're actually of Planned Parenthood. They get them in there and intimidate them and frighten them there. That to me is one of the frightening things about him.

SMITH: Luby also takes issue with the practice Keroack pioneered of trying to discourage abortions by having pregnant women look at ultrasound pictures of their fetus. She calls it unfair and manipulative. But those who've worked with Keroack say keeping those images from women is more manipulative. Mark Conrad, president of A Woman's Concern, says there's nothing radical or out of touch about Keroack's desire to reduce the number of abortions.

Mr. MARK CONRAD (President, A Woman's Concern): We've got clients that we work with and they will say - tell you that they had their abortion because they felt they had no other choice. So what he's going to do is he's going to be a leader in making sure women have all the information they need.

SMITH: As deputy assistant secretary for population affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services, Keroack will oversee nearly $300 million in annual family planning grants. Abortion rights advocates worry that he'll steer money away from contraception to abstinence-only programs and he'll have a chilling effect on abortion services. But Conrad says those fears about Keroack are unfounded as long as Roe v. Wade is the law of the land.

Mr. CONRAD: He's not going to be out there using his office to try to violate the law. He won't. He can't. He's going to be obeying the law.

SMITH: Keroack's appointment does not need congressional approval, and many on the left see it as one of several provocative personnel moves by President Bush, who's been promising bipartisanship since the Democrats took control of Congress. Marilyn Keefe of the Family Planning Association calls it a deliberate poke in the eye and says Keroack's new agency is one that will be sure to get closer congressional oversight over the next two years. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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