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Birth Control Foe To Head Family Planning

Family planning advocates denounced President Bush's appointment of a contraceptive critic to be head of the federal program responsible for providing birth control and other family planning services to the poor.

Dr. Susan Orr, an associate commissioner at the Department of Health and Human Services, was named by Mr. Bush to be the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs (DASPA). She would oversee Title X, the nation's family planning program.

Orr is currently on the board of directors of Teen Choice, a non-profit groups advocating for abstinence in lieu of contraception.

Before joining the Bush administration (where she has served in the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at HHS), she was senior director for marriage and family care at the Family Research Council (a religious advocacy group founded by James Dobson of Focus on the Family), and director of the Center for Social Policy at the Reason Public Policy Institute.

Orr also served in the previous Bush and Clinton administrations as a child welfare program specialist at the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. She received her Masters degree and Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate School, and has worked as a high school principal and adjunct professor at American University and Regent University.

Orr has been criticized for public statements which have indicated an anti-contraceptive view in areas of education, public policy and health insurance.

In 2000, while working as a policy director at the Family Research Council, she objected to a Washington, D.C., city council bill requiring health insurers to pay for contraceptives. By not including a "conscience clause" allowing employers to withhold contraceptive coverage, Orr said the council would force employers "to make a choice between serving God and serving the D.C. government.

"It's not about choice. It's not about health care. It's about making everyone collaborators with the culture of death," she said.

In April 2001, when President Bush proposed ending contraceptive coverage for federal employees, Orr said, "We're quite pleased because fertility is not a disease. It's not a medical necessity that you have it."

In February 2001 she told the Conservative Political Action Conference that President Bush's reinstatement of the "Mexico City Policy" (which prohibits federal funds going to organizations that provide, even as only part of their services, abortion) was proof that he is pro-life "in his heart." She also advocated against administration approval of RU-486.

"The appointment of Susan Orr is a nightmare for anyone who believes in birth control and sex ed, and further evidence that the Bush administration is intent on appointing an anti-choice extremist to head Title X," said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. "This is yet another example of the Bush administration putting politics ahead of women's health care."

"Dr. Orr should not be entrusted with the oversight of the federal family planning program and the health of millions of Americans," said Vicki Saporta, President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation. "For more than 35 years, the Title X program has been a hallmark of quality preventive care, enabling practitioners to provide family planning services to low-income individuals."

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., released a statement saying, "This appointment is absurd."

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins rallied to Orr's defense, saying her 2000 comments against health coverage for birth control were misconstrued and merely demonstrated her support of consumer choice of coverage. "The real question is why anyone would want to mandate that the insured buy coverage they do not want or currently need," Perkins said.

Last year, President Bush appointed another prominent abstinence advocate, Dr. Eric Keroack, to head the federal Office of Population Affairs. Dr. Keroack resigned in March after criticism of his statements, including his assertion that engaging in premarital sex suppresses the neuropeptide oxytocin, which he claims subsequently impairs one's ability to forge long-term relationships.

Orr's appointment, ironically, comes a week after a study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute determined that in areas of the world where contraception was more widely available, such as Eastern Europe, abortion rates were lower than in other areas where birth control was not easily available.
By David Morgan