He is a 37-year-old obstetrician/gynecologist, and he is also the son of a Republican congressman from Texas. He is opposed to abortion and believes society is eroding morally. He thinks the Supreme Court decision that legalized birth control was an unwarranted intrusion in the privacy of marriage, and he feels the pill has hurt women by encouraging men to neglect their responsibility for contraception.

He is an ardent advocate of abstinence for teenagers, and thinks sex is best reserved for marriage. He believes there is no such thing as safe sex. As he is unmarried, he does not engage in sexual relations himself.

His job: the Bush administration's head of family planning.

Is something wrong with this picture?

The deputy assistant secretary for population affairs (known in the field as the DASPA) at the Department of Health and Human Services is not one of those political appointees who get confirmed by Congress in front of a battery of television cameras. He is a smaller potato than that. But it is through mid-level appointments like this that an administration activates its campaign rhetoric. When you vote, you vote for more than a president. You vote for a DASPA.

From William R. Archer III's modest office on the seventh floor of HHS, enlivened by a Dr. Seuss book on the coffee table and a picture of him as a teenager meeting George Bush, he advises Secretary Louis Sullivan about contraception, teen sexuality and pregnancy, and family planning. He also administers the opaquely named Title X and Title XX programs, the first being the $150 million vehicle for funding 4,000 family planning clinics. Title XX is the $7.8 million Adolescent Family Life Act, which is aimed at teens.

There are plenty of controversial issues for the DASPA, but Archer arrived in the middle of wrangling over one of the most explosive: the so-called gag rule. The regulations, which forbid anyone but a physician to discussabortion with a pregnant client, were stalled in a court challenge until last week, when the U.S. Court of Appeals lifted an injunction against their implementation while an appeal proceeds.

Being point man for the administration on the gag rule has won Archer support from conservative groups like the Family Research Council and the Eagle Forum -- neither of which takes a position on contraception. "We are very supportive of Dr. Archer and what he's trying to do," said Charmaine Crouse Yoest of the Family Research Council. "Dr. Archer has done a fine job and we're pleased he has been so sensitive to family concerns," said Susan Hirschmann of the Eagle Forum.

Archer's attitudes exemplify what the conservatives mean when they talk about "family values," a moral order at war with the forces of celebrity unwed mothers and degenerate Hollywood producers. But his ideas have split Archer from his constituents, who are prepared to say so in unusually forceful terms.

"He has no credibility in the family planning community," said Judith M. DeSarno, executive director of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), which represents clinics funded by Title X. "He is well-meaning, but he confuses empathy with the idea that he has to protect people from themselves." NFPRHA disinvited Archer to its last conference because so many of his views were "anathema" to its members, DeSarno said. Archer said he remains ready to work with them.

"I have nothing in common with the man, and no respect for him based on his political attitude," said Joan Hinneberry, who administers the Title X program in Colorado. "I have real problems with someone who accepts tax dollars to run a program he's basically trying to destroy."

"I advise people never to talk to him alone, because he twists what you say and uses it against you," said Betsy Render, executive director of the Wyoming Reproductive Health Council. "We have lots of problems in family planning, and the only thing he wanted to talk about {during a visit} was abortion."

Not surprisingly, he does not agree.

Abortion: Societal Symptom?

At the beginning of his first year of medical residency, "Reyn" (for Reynolds, his middle name) Archer spent a month in an African village doctoring in a crude hospital. There he performed operations in a Quonset hut, doing everything from administering anesthesia to carrying outlab tests. He describes that month as "one of the defining moments" of his life.

"It taught me a lot about caring for the poor," he said. "I found I didn't have a right to look down on them. ... What I saw was a sense of commitment to family, to the joy of daily life, which in some ways we have lost in this country. So it made me realize economics don't have everything to do with the quality of life."

Another defining moment was in his early teens, when, "like every boy in Texas," he had been given a shotgun and went out and shot a bird. The sight of the dead animal appalled him. "I was remorsed to look at it and think I had done this," he said. "When I was growing up I worked in zoos in Houston, with fawns, and baby elephants, and helped deliver calves on a farm. I've always been interested in that." Those experiences were the beginning of his opposition to abortion.

"I've always said abortion is a symptom of other things," he said. "It's the broken hearts of people who haven't cared for one another. Or men who have deserted women. It's the sign of how we act towards each other." He dislikes extremists on either side, he said, because they are "unkind."

It is hard to know exactly what impels Archer's belief system, what other experiences allow him to hold such apparently contradictory views as believing that birth control is useful but the Supreme Court decision that legalized it is not. What he has said -- in an interview and to other people -- indicates that he has both a scientific side and an emotional side, one that was deeply influenced by his parents' divorce and a sense that men are both less responsible and more harassed than they should be.

"The notion of being the provider is one we haven't really answered yet," he said. "In communities that are falling apart, women feel that either the government or themselves can do a better job and so until we rectify that I don't see a way to bring men back into relationships with women that are equal relationships. You can't have a man who is a slouch and expect a woman to want him to come back into the home. Nor can you expect a man to have to fight a bigger issue surrounding the feeling that the government or his wife is better than he."

Archer is a pleasant-looking man with a mustache that helps him look older; he could easily be mistaken for a recent college graduate. He grew up in Texas and Northern Virginia, spending a year and a half at Langley High School after his father, Rep. Bill Archer, was elected to fill George Bush's congressional seat in 1970. His parents divorced in 1981; even though Archer was an adult, the breakup affected him deeply.

After college at Tulane (where family friend Neil Bush was a classmate) and the University of Texas (where he was a cheerleader, among other things), he got his medical degree and moved back to the Washington area. He spent a year with Kaiser Permanente, then set up an ob-gyn office in Fairfax with two other doctors. It became a lucrative, middle-class suburban practice. The $129,500-a-year job at HHS is a pay cut, he said.

In his six years in private practice, Archer delivered a lot of babies (he has a career total of about 3,000). He did not accept Medicaid, but he did accept some patients who couldn't pay. He also delivered several babies to disabled women who had been told by other doctors they should not or could not have children. Terry Roush, a file clerk at the CIA who uses a wheelchairbecause she was born without hip joints, is one of them.

She heard of Archer through friends at the Fairfax Covenant Church, and went to him partly because she knew from them that he was opposed to abortion. He encouraged Roush and her husband to go ahead with their plans to have their child, who is now 2 years old.

"He made us feel that he was really concerned about us as a family," Roush said. "I told him that we had prayed about being able to conceive. Since he had been recommended by ladies at my church, I knew he would be open about discussing spiritual things."

When Archer told the Roushes he was thinking about taking this job, "he asked for prayer that he make the right decision," she said. "I obliged in that." When he left the practice, a group of patients had a picnic for him, bringing along dozens of children he had delivered.

"Whatever views he has are based in a human concern about what is happening to people," said Ioana Razi, a Washington pediatrician who became friends with Archer when she cared for a baby he delivered. "There's a lot of suffering that came walking into his office. Women with gynecological problems, a lot of infections that resulted in infertility, a lot of missed relationships. How do you deal with that as a doctor? There are real difficulties that have resulted from having a lot of sexual freedom."

Despite his sympathy, Archer, being single, is removed from the daily problems faced by American families today. "I don't think the circumstances are all that ideal in the suburbs anymore," he said the other day, seemingly having just discovered this phenomenon. "I think there's as much dysfunctionality there, in the whole mind-set of wanting to flee the problems of the inner city, trying to have the idyllic life. Divorce is just as much a problem in the suburbs; parent and child communication is just as much a problem as in the inner city."

It was his predecessor, Archer said, who offered him his current job. It was his predecessor, Archer said, who offered him his current job. NabersCabaniss, whom he met through a patient, called him one night and said, "What are you doing with the rest of your life? Why don't you take my job when I leave?"

It was a chance, he thought, to experience the political world of his father's side of the family and to express his concerns about adolescents' and women's health on a larger scale. "People will never believe I didn't get the job through my father, but it's the truth," he said. (Rep. Archer did not answer a request to talk about his son.)

Raised a Catholic, Archer left the church during his adolescence. Three years ago he returned and is now a member of St. Anne's in Arlington. Although the church officially opposes artificial birth control, he said he is comfortable being in charge of family planning.

"I did all this when I was in practice, so it was not something new to me," he said. "I'm sure there are those who think I don't have as much fervor for contraception, but I do, except that I do it differently."

Archer's mother, Patricia Mills, acknowledges that his views about sex are out of the current mainstream. "Whether you agree with him or not, I really feel Reyn is one of the most principled individuals you could find," she said. "You don't see many people with those kind of convictions today." Mills said she is against abortion herself, but not as "stridently" as her son.

Sometimes his position on abortion confounds his listeners. Last year in a congressional subcommittee hearing, Archer said: "I guess for me abortion is not a moral decision, it's a question of right and wrong. 'Moral' has an implication for something deeper than that, I believe."

Some congressmen were confused. "What is the difference between a moral decision on the one hand and one concerning right and wrong on the other?" asked Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.).

"The difference between, for me, right and wrong. Let's just put it that way," Archer said.

Archer talks glowingly about his maternal grandfather, an ob-gyn who inspired him to follow in his footsteps. Foster Moore was "a Renaissance man," he said. But he neglected to mention that his grandfather was not just pro-choice, but a leader in the movement to legalize abortion. After that happened, in fact, Moore became the medical director of the first abortion clinic in San Antonio.

Archer said he never had a chance to discuss the issue with his grandfather. He died the night Archer, still in medical school, delivered his first baby.

Channeling the Sex Drive

The more people in the family planning field learned about Archer, who for a bureaucrat was unusually open about his views, the more upset they got.

Take the sex issue, for example. Christy Crosser, a consultant in Colorado involved with Title X clinics, guided Archer through a visit to Denver. During a lunch with two other people, the discussion turned to abstinence, one of the flash points of disagreement between conservatives -- who believe that offering birth control to teenagers invites them to have sex -- and most health care providers -- who think protection should be available if celibacy is rejected.

Crosser challenged Archer. "I said that since he was unmarried I assumed he was also abstinent," she recalled. "And he said yes, he was, that he'd had sex six years ago and seemed to regret it. I was stunned."

To his credit, Archer does not flinch from a question that would send most other adults fleeing for cover. "I've learned from my own mistakes," he said. "At this point in my life, what I say is what I am going to do. I don't think it's easy. Outside of anger, the sexual drive is one of the strongest drives we have, and we can channel it into immediate gratification or channel it into productive work. ... If someone asked my opinion, I'd say this route is better, but would I make {abstinence} a crusade? Absolutely not."

In his experience, both professionally and personally, sexual intercourse outside marriage is not worth the risk of disease, unwanted pregnancy and emotional trauma, he said. "You talk to lots of couples who had relations before marriage and they say it was not the most important part of their relationship. And then they say now, 'We have problems with our sex life after marriage.' You don't say to them, 'You're bad for doing this.' Obviously people make mistakes."

People in the family planning field say that Archer's personal views affect their work because he fails to advocate budget increases, and because he is more interested in programs promoting teen abstinence than in their daily reality of dealing with those -- teens as well as adults -- who are already sexually active. Not to mention the gag rule controversy. Archer acknowledges he has had some problems communicating with the family planning community. "Physicians are episodic thinkers -- they take a problem and fix it," he said. "This is more process. ... You can't direct people as you would as a physician. ... In the first six months my staff would say, 'You've got to quit talking about these personal things.... People misunderstand things.' "

Within weeks of taking up his new post he was being grilled by a congressional subcommittee, and twisted himself into linguistic knots trying to explain to liberal Democrats what clinic personnel could and could not say, how far an abortion clinic had to be from a family planning clinic, and so forth..

This spring Archer returned to the subcommittee for another round, but this time the congressmen were waiting for him.

"At some point, I am going to ask you to answer yes or no," said Rep. Gerry Sikorski (D-Minn.). "You can do it at the beginning of your answer or at the end of your answer, but -- "

"Yes," answered Archer. "I will do that."

A few minutes later Sikorski asked, "If a patient requests, may a nurse in a Title X clinic provide complete counseling to a patient about all pregnancy options?"

And Archer answered:

"This is a -- we believe that nurses are fully trained to do contraceptive and sexually transmitted disease services. And we have the funds that are provided to nurses to be trained to do such. They have very -- this is not consistent, but the majority of nurses that do provide Title X are trained in that fashion. They have a limited amount of training in pregnancy and abortion-related information. We believe it is very urgent and essential that a woman who is pregnant speak to a physician or nurse who is fully trained in obstetric services every time. And so, in light of that statement, we believe it is appropriate for physicians to give that information, and that we will expect that nurses will use the list of comprehensive health care providers and will offer referral for any medical concern that they have for the client."

"Is that a yes or a no?" Sikorski asked.

"I believe it's a yes," said Archer.

Rep. Studds had earlier expressed similar frustrations.

"This has an Alice in Wonderland part; it sounds like a medieval scholastic debate," he said. "I wish somebody would answer yes or no to something. I mean, I'm damned if I can understand what your position is. I would love to vehemently oppose it. But it does seem to me that you could at least have the decency to articulate it."

Archer replied: "Maybe we are closer together than you realize."

"That's genuinely frightening," said Studds.

Archer insulted nurse practitioners by maintaining that doctors are more qualified to counsel patients and by insisting that nurse practitioners do not support the concept of abstinence for teenagers. "I don't think there is anyone out there in family planning who thinks it is a good idea for teens to have sex," said Susan Wysocki, who represents the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Reproductive Health. "But they do. ... Dr. Archer talks a lot about these wonderful holistic programs and counseling for teenagers, but what has he done to make that possible? Given that most teens we see in a clinic are already sexually active, isn't it better they be protected from unwanted pregnancy and STDs?"

'Tree of Evil'

The more the two sides talk, the more their differences appear to be based on fundamentally opposed assumptions. And no matter how many studies, surveys, reports and analyses are thrown onto the table, it seems they will never converge. For example:

Archer believes that groups like Planned Parenthood are responsible for contaminating the issue of contraception with the explosive issue of abortion, by advocating choice so visibly. "Planned Parenthood didn't really take a strong stand on abortion until 1976," he said. "They were concerned primarily about family planning. ... They set themselves up to be criticized."

"This is outrageous," said David Andrews, acting director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "All during the modern period of the late '60s and '70s, we helped countless thousands of women to seek and obtain safe legal abortions wherever they could be found. ... In 1971 we were an amicus on Roe v. Wade. ... {Our opposition} may be most vocal on the subject of abortion, but their ultimate aim is to deny access to contraception as well."

Another example: In 1961 a Planned Parenthood executive named Estelle Griswold was convicted in Connecticut for giving birth control advice to a married couple. Her case led to the Supreme Court decision that legalized birth control. Archer thinks this ruling was a mistake, a view family planning providers find mind-boggling, especially since Archer also maintains that he is not opposed to birth control.

"I think the integrity of marriage is a very important thing that we don't understand in our society," Archer explained. "Women should never be oppressed by their husbands, that's essential. But on the other hand, I don't think government should have a right to intervene in the marriage relationship at any level. Men are hurt more by that decision than women. ... As men see that they don't have a right to discuss those issues anymore, they feel a little bit like they are no longer really responsible."

There is also the inevitable debate over money. Family planners, who say they face bigger bills for lab tests, a near-epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, and poor patients with a wider array of health problems than ever before, want a larger budget. One analysis published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute found that Title X funding for family planning services has decreased 66 percent over the past decade, if both cuts and inflation are included in the equation.

Archer, on the other hand, is sitting at a table with the heads of other programs who all have their hands out. He argues that if you add all the money spent on family planning by the federal government, states and localities, the total is close to half a billion and that's plenty. No family planning organization thinks that total is a fair assessment. "He uses statistics all wrong," charged DeSarno.

The House and Senate are to vote soon on reauthorizing Title X, to the tune of $195 million, with an amendment gutting the gag rule attached. The authorization is expected to pass, and Bush is expected to veto it -- as it has been since 1985. This means it will be funded by Congress out of appropriations, but as with other unauthorized programs, will stay at its current $150 million level.

So this, in microcosm, is how a political appointee can come to have an enormous impact on the lives of millions of people. The family planning people believe the root of their problems is that conservatives are afraid of sex, and wonder if Archer is an example. Conservatives point to today's permissive attitudes as a key cause of many social problems, and believe that people who dispense birth control are just handing out party favors at the orgy. They insist that most people who work in the clinics push abortion and must be stopped, even though the federally funded programs have never included abortions.

The gulf between them is perhaps illustrated by what has come to be known as Archer's "Tree of Evil" speech. Several people, including DeSarno, recounted a version.

Shortly after Archer took office, DeSarno introduced herself outside a subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill. He was cordial and they began to talk about issues. "You're just raking the leaves of evil," Archer told her. "I want to root up the whole tree."

"I interpreted him to mean the tree was family planning," said DeSarno, as did others who had heard Archer use the same analogy.

"That was misinterpreted," said Archer, who began to get leaves in the mail as the story made the rounds. "I meant get to the root of the problem," that root being all the noxious influences on people today, from television to divorce to abortion.

"They thought I meant family planning was evil. Why would I say I was going to uproot a program I am supposed to administer?"