By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Despite his work for a Christian pregnancy counseling group that opposes contraception, the physician who yesterday began overseeing federal family-planning programs has prescribed birth control for his patients, a Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman said.
Eric Keroack, a nationally known advocate of abstinence until marriage, served for more than a decade as medical director for A Woman's Concern, a Massachusetts nonprofit group that discourages abortion and does not distribute information promoting birth control. But HHS spokeswoman Christina Pearson said yesterday that most of Keroack's professional time had been devoted to his private practice of 20 years, not the group.
"When he was in private practice as a doctor, he did prescribe birth control," Pearson said. "And he did family planning with patients at their request as part of his private physician role." She said Keroack has prescribed contraceptives for both married and unmarried women.
Democrats and family-planning advocates have panned the Bush administration's selection of Keroack to oversee HHS's $283 million reproductive-health program and a $30 million program that encourages abstinence among teenagers because of his work with A Woman's Concern.
They said that Keroack is a poor choice to lead HHS's Office of Population Affairs, which funds birth control, pregnancy tests, counseling and screenings for sexually transmitted disease and HIV. Fourteen Democratic senators sent a letter yesterday urging HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt to withdraw Keroack's appointment. Seven House Democrats issued a similar call Monday. The job does not require Senate confirmation.
"Unfortunately, this appointment is another example of the administration allowing ideology to trump science, and it could jeopardize vital services on which large numbers of women and families depend," the letter said. Signers included incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who will be chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Jackie Payne, director of government relations for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Keroack's record opposing birth control speaks for itself.
"The fact that he's the medical director of an organization that takes that position is, at best, hypocritical if he's doing something different in private practice," she said. "That's not the kind of advocate for birth control that we need. We need someone to head up the family-planning program who is wholeheartedly for family planning."
Pearson also acknowledged yesterday that Keroack is not currently certified as an obstetrician-gynecologist. That is not a requirement for the job, but HHS officials had cited Keroack's expertise in defending his selection.
Keroack was certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1995, but that credential expired after 10 years.
"He inadvertently missed the recertification deadline and for 2006 is listed as board-eligible, meaning he is eligible to take the recertification exam," Pearson said. "He plans to seek recertification in the future."