Last month, President Bush appointed a longtime opponent of contraception, Dr. Eric Keroack, to head the government agency charged with providing access to contraceptive information and supplies to low-income individuals. Keroack will serve as the assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for Population Affairs, which is primarily responsible for overseeing the Office of Family Planning.

Keroack was previously the medical director of A Woman’s Concern, a Boston-based group that characterizes contraceptives as “demeaning to women.” Consequently, the group doesn’t provide information on birth control at the pregnancy clinics it runs. It advocates sexual abstinence until marriage. According to its literature, A Woman’s Concern works to encourage “abortion-vulnerable women” to go through with their pregnancies.

It appears as if Keroack’s chief qualification for his new position, in the eyes of President Bush, is his strong support for abstinence-only sex education. In a presentation at the 2003 International Abstinence Leadership Conference, Keroack stated, “Pre-marital sex is really modern germ warfare.” In 2004, he criticized the American Medical Association’s support for comprehensive sex education.

Failure of abstinence-only

Since taking office, the Bush administration has channeled more than $600 million into abstinence-until-marriage sex education programs. Yet no scientific study to date has demonstrated that curriculums that only promote abstinence actually curtail teenage sex.

In 2001, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development released a monumental study of approximately 100,000 teenagers who had taken an abstinence pledge. The study found that after 18 months, most had broken the pledge by engaging in sexual intercourse. And since they hadn’t planned on doing so, the majority failed to use contraception.

There’s simply no evidence to support Keroack’s claim that “abstinence education is the first mechanism that has actually made a positive impact on the devastation caused by the errant sexual education programs of the 1970s and 1980s.” Last year, the Texas Department of Health conducted a review of abstinence-only sex education programs in that state. The review concluded that the programs had “little impact” on teenagers’ behavior. In fact, it found that girls in the ninth grade were actually 5 percent more likely to engage in sex after being exposed to an abstinence-only curriculum. And boys in the 10th grade were 15 percent more likely to engage in sex after participating in abstinence-only classes.

A Woman’s Concern, the group of pregnancy centers Keroack supervised, has repeatedly been accused of deceptive practices. The attorney general for Massachusetts has received numerous complaints from women who maintained that they were told by the group that they perform abortions, but say that once they arrived for their appointments they were accosted and told that they were “killing [their] babies.”

High-pressure salesman

Keroack used the clinics to pioneer his technique of showing ultrasound images of fetuses to women to discourage them from having abortions. He justified this technique with an analogy to car repairs. “Even Midas lets you look at your old muffler before they advise you to change it,” he wrote in a letter to the Massachusetts Legislature in 2001. It’s difficult to believe that someone so biased can impartially oversee the federal government’s provision of contraceptive services.

Equally controversial, Keroack has compared teenage sexual activity to drug use. In 2001, he theorized that engaging in sex prevents teenagers from developing emotional relationships, owing to an overproduction of the hormone oxytocin. According to a paper co-written by Keroack, “Just as in heroine addiction, the person involved will experience sex withdrawal and will need to move on to a new sex playmate.” His theory was rejected by the scientific community, largely because it was not based on research conducted on teenagers, but rather on small rodents found on the Great Plains.

The Office of Family Planning oversees a yearly budget of $288 million and operates a national network of approximately 4,600 clinics, providing reproductive health services to 5 million persons annually. For more than 30 years these family planning clinics have played an important role in ensuring access to contraceptive services at no cost or at a reduced cost for low-income and uninsured women. Under the direction of Keroack, the services and information provided by the clinics will substantially decrease.

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