Low-Income Access to Contraception... Orr Not?

U.S. President Bush has just appointed a visible critic and opponent of contraception to head Title X, our family planning program whose purpose is to provide access to contraception and other family planning services.

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.”

Susan Orr, who has outright stated that contraception is NOT a medical necessity, is now in a position in which she is supposed to be responsible for making sure that it IS treated as a medical necessity. She applauded a Bush proposal to cease contraceptive coverage under health insurance for federal employees, and cheered on Bush's refual to provide funding for international family programs who even discussed abortion as an option. Orr "will oversee $283 million in annual grants to provide low-income families and others with contraceptive services, counseling and preventive screenings."

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.

Feeling like you've read this here before? Getting deja vu? No doubt, since Bush has made quite the habit of putting anti-contraception folks in this position. We went through this last year with the appointment of Eric Keroack, an anti-contraception quack of an OB/GYN (and a man who likely has given validity to the idea of being afraid of your gynecologist) who only recently stepped away from his post because of Medicaid lawsuit against him in his home state.

From the mission statement of the center Keroack was medical directior of:

A Woman's Concern does not distribute, or encourage the use of, contraceptive drugs and devices. … 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.

Now with Orr, yet again, this is the equivalent of putting someone in the Attorney General's office who has made clear -- and whose opinion Bush approves and applauds -- that they protest our judicial system. It is not supposed to be optional to support contraception in these positions: it is federally mandated.

Title X is the nation's family planning program, put into place only shortly after contraception was finally legal for married women (that changed in 1965), and just before it was made legal for unmarried women (in 1972). It came to be because it was clear that low-income women and families were being saddled with more and more unwanted children which they could not afford, harming both those women and children as well as costing the nation more and more per public assistance of those families.

"The Title X program provides public funding for family planning and preventive health screening services. Established by Congress in 1970, the aim of the program is "to assist in making comprehensive voluntary family planning services readily available to all persons desiring such services." The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services administers the Title X program through its Office of Family Planning. Approximately 4,600 public and private entities, including non-profit family planning clinics, hospitals and public health departments, receive Title X funds each year.

Services at Title X facilities are provided on a sliding scale based on income; people at or below the federal poverty level receive services at no cost. No one is refused services because of inability to pay. The Title X program has always provided family planning services to adolescents. In 1978, Congress amended Title X to place "a special emphasis on preventing unwanted pregnancies among sexually active adolescents," adding services specifically for teenagers.

Family planning services provided through Title X include contraception, treatment of STIs, preventive services, such as screening for breast and cervical cancer, pregnancy tests and counseling, and educational programs. " (More here.)

Bush knows it is supposed to be supportive of contraception, but clearly would prefer we did NOT have access to contraception. Neither of these appointments have somehow been accidental, nor was Bush unaware of his appointee's opposition to the very services he's put them in charge of providing. This is Bush, as he has done in some many ways, in so many different arenas, flouting his power, just because he can, and continually forgetting -- or simply ignoring -- the fact that this is supposed to be a democratic, not a theocratic, nation.

What can you do? You can sign a petition against the appointment here. You could also pen a letter to your local newspaper or school newspaper or write your state representative.

On the other hand, before you do anything else, you may want to first make sure you've got all the birth control you need for a while.