The Anti-Family Planning Czar
On Monday, President Bush appointed Susan Orr Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a position that gives her oversight of federal family planning programs. Orr, who is currently directing HHS child welfare programs, was touted by the administration as “highly qualified.” Before joining HHS, Orr served as senior director for marriage and family care at the conservative Family Research Council, which opposes family planning, and was an adjunct professor at Pat Robertson’s Regent University. In her new role, Orr, who considers contraceptives part of the “culture of death,” will be responsible for “HHS’s $283 million reproductive-health program, a $30 million program that encourages abstinence among teenagers, and HHS’s Office of Population Affairs, which funds birth control, pregnancy tests, counseling, and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.” Given Orr’s record of opposition to comprehensive family planning services, women’s rights and reproductive health advocates are speaking out strongly against her appointment. “We are appalled,” said Mary Jane Gallagher, president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. “While her resume suggests a commitment to child welfare and children, her professional credentials fail to demonstrate a commitment to comprehensive family planning services for all men and women in need.” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) called her appointment “absurd.” Referring to her as “a virulently anti-family planning radical,” Planned Parenthood has circulated a petition opposing Orr. Unfortunately, though, appointing Orr as an “acting” secretary allows the administration to sidestep the need for Senate confirmation.
A RECORD AGAINST FAMILY PLANNING: In 2001, Orr embraced a Bush administration proposal to “stop requiring all health insurance plans for federal employees” to cover a broad range of birth control. “We’re quite pleased, because fertility is not a disease,” said Orr. At the 2001 Conservative Political Action Conference, Orr cheered Bush’s endorsement of former President Ronald Reagan’s “Mexico City Policy,” which required NGOs receiving federal funds to “neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations.” In a 2000 Weekly Standard article, Orr railed against requiring health insurance plans to cover contraceptives. “It’s not about choice,” said Orr. “It’s not about health care. It’s about making everyone collaborators with the culture of death.” In 2000, she authored a paper titled, “Real Women Stay Married.” In it, she wrote that women should “think about focusing our eyes, not upon ourselves, but upon the families we form through marriage.” In 1999, Orr referred to child protection as “the most intrusive arm of social services.” Her former employer, the Family Research Council, which championed her appointment yesterday, equates contraception with abortion.
BUSH’S PATTERN OF RADICAL APPOINTMENTS: Orr is the latest in a long line of Bush administration appointments promoting “a conservative political agenda” that often “runs counter to well-established science.” In 2002, Bush appointed W. David Hager, an obstetrician-gynecologist considered “a leading conservative Christian voice on women’s health and sexuality,” to the Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In his position, Hager “played a key role” in convincing the FDA to overrule the advisory committee’s recommendations and to initially reject allowing emergency contraception, known as Plan B, from being made available over the counter. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called that decision a “dark stain on the reputation of an evidence-based agency like the FDA.” In Nov. 2006, Bush appointed Eric Keroack to the same position Orr plans to fill. Before the appointment, Keroack was the medical director at A Woman’s Concern, a Christian pregnancy counseling group that “supports sexual abstinence until marriage, opposes contraception and does not distribute information promoting birth control at its six centers in eastern Massachusetts.” In March 2007, Keroack resigned from the position to defend himself from accusations of medical fraud.
CONSERVATIVE ASSAULT ON FAMILY PLANNING: These appointments are merely part of a larger conservative assault on family planning. In January, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Title X Family Planning Act, a bill to amend the Public Health Service Act, prohibiting family planning grants from being awarded to an entity that performs abortions, despite the fact that federal law already prohibits clinics from spending Title X money on abortion services. A similar restriction was attached to the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill, but the measure was soundly defeated. The House bill did include, however, an additional $28 million federal funding for abstinence-only education, which dictates discussing contraceptives only in terms of failure rates while often exaggerating them. The Bush administration recently launched a national ad campaign promoting abstinence-only education, despite a recent federal report concluded that such programs have had “no impacts on rates of sexual abstinence.” In March, a new federal law “eliminated price breaks for many university student health centers, driving the cost of some birth-control products from less than $10 a month to $50 or more.”
JUSTICE — MUKASEY SIGNALS SUPPORT FOR MANY OF BUSH’S POLICIES: In his confirmation hearing yesterday, Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey signaled that he would be a departure from his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales. Mukasey said “he will reject White House political meddling and overstepping its authority in terrorism cases.” “I would be uncomfortable with any evidence used in trial that is coerced,” he said. Mukasey expressed his willingness to work with Congress, stating, “I would certainly suggest going to Congress whenever we can.” At the same time, he was “reluctant to say whether he thought the administration’s terrorist surveillance program crossed the legal boundaries of a 1978 law setting limits on government spying in the U.S,” emphasizing that the President could take steps without consulting Congress. Mukasey was also reluctant to say that Guantanamo Bay prison should be closed and said he would not expand habeas corpus rights for detainees. “I’m encouraged by the answers,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT), suggesting that it is likely Mukasey will be confirmed.
INTELLIGENCE — SENATE GRANTS IMMUNITY TO TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES ON WIRETAPPING: Yesterday, the Senate reached an agreement with the Bush administration on a government surveillance bill that includes immunity for telecommunications companies who may have broken the law in the past by making client data available to the National Security Agency. President Bush has declared immunity to be a precondition to his signing the bill. But providing immunity “would wipe out a series of pending lawsuits alleging violations of privacy rights by telecommunications companies that provided telephone records, summaries of e-mail traffic and other information to the government after Sept. 11, 2001, without receiving court warrants.” Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the lead counsel in one such lawsuit against AT&T, said that these lawsuits are not the work of “typical trial lawyers trying to find a way to get into the pockets of American companies,” as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) claimed. “It’s certainly the goal of the administration and the phone companies to ensure that there’s never a decision about [whether] what’s been going on is legal or not. The telecom cases are the last, best hope,” Cohn said. The House Democratic leadership yesterday had to pull its version of the bill, which does not contain telecom immunity, after Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) introduced an amendment that would have “substantially delayed” the legislation.
IMMIGRATION — WOMAN’S FAMILY ARRESTED AFTER SHE SPEAKS OUT ON IMMIGRATION REFORM: Last week, USA Today published an article in which Tam Tran, the daughter of a political refugee from Vietnam, described her family’s struggle to gain legal status in the United States. Three days later, immigration officers arrived at her home before dawn and took her entire family into custody. The arrests immediately raised eyebrows. Tran’s family was detained on a “years-old deportation order” and had been “reporting to immigration officials each year to obtain work permits.” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), chairwoman of the House Immigration Subcommittee, “said she believes the family was targeted because Tran testified before Lofgren’s panel earlier this spring” in support of immigration reform. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said that Tran’s testimony before Congress “absolutely, unequivocally had nothing to do” with her family’s arrest. But after being pressed on why a family in regular contact with immigration officials would be forcibly arrested in the middle of the night, Kelly Nantel, an ICE official, could only offer the excuse that agents “did not understand the complexity of the case.” Lofgren posed the question, “Would [Tran] and her family have been arrested if she hadn’t spoken out?”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is still under the microscope from the Kentucky press over his office’s involvement in smearing Graeme Frost. In an editorial entitled “McConnell versus truth,” The Courier-Journal writes, “It’s clear what Mitch McConnell knew and when he knew it. It’s clear he deceived the public.”
“Under pressure to help override President Bush’s veto, at least five of the eight House Democrats who voted initially against expanding a popular children’s health insurance program now say they’ll switch sides.”
“The Pentagon is preparing to alert eight National Guard units that they should be ready to go to Iraq or Afghanistan beginning late next summer.” A National Guard official explained, “You create holes when you surge units forward, and someone has to fill them.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed the Iraq war yesterday, stating, “it’s absolutely pointless to fight with a people.” “It is absolutely unacceptable to keep the occupation force in place in Iraq for eternity,” he added, emphasizing his support for a “date for withdrawal.”
The head of the Federal Communications Commission is pushing a plan to repeal a rule “that forbids a company to own both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city.” The plan would “be a big victory for some executives of media conglomerates,” including Rupert Murdoch.
“It is likely that Blackwater will not compete to keep the job” of escorting U.S. diplomats outside the protected Green Zone after May, according a U.S. official. “[T]here is a mutual feeling that the Sept. 16 shooting deaths mean the company cannot continue in its current role.”
“Alberto Gonzales was briefed extensively about a criminal leak investigation despite the fact that he had reason to believe that several individuals under investigation in the matter were potential witnesses against him in separate Justice Department inquiries.”
And finally: On election night 2006, eight-year old Sarah Maria Santorum wept on national television when her dad lost his Senate race. Country singer Martina McBride on Monday released a song, For These Times, inspired in part by the girl’s tears. “I always tell my children that good things come from bad things,” Rick Santorum said in an interview this week.