Family planning head scored at NCJW talk

Family planning head scored at NCJW talk

Gloria Feldt, a past national president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told The Jewish Standard, before speaking at a gathering on Tuesday of the National Council of Jewish Women, Bergen County Section, that the appointment of Dr. Eric Keroack as deputy assistant secretary for population affairs is "an arrogant misuse of power by the Bush administration."

"Right after an election in which Americans told him that they do not want him to restrict their reproductive rights," Feldt said, "President Bush appointed somebody who has a record of opposing birth control to be in charge of major family planning,"

Keroack’s appointment two weeks ago has elicited an outraged response from women’s groups across the country.

Dr. Eric Keroack, a past critic of contraception, has been appointed as deputy assistant secretary for population affairs. The position oversees Title X, which is responsible for distributing contraception information to low-income famiies.

According to a Nov. ‘0 statement by Phyllis Snyder, NCJW’s national president, "Dr. Keroack has … demonstrated that his personal religious views about sex outweigh his commitment to science-based decision-making. NCJW believes that this appointment makes clear that contraceptive freedom can no longer be taken for granted, despite the fact that Americans support it in overwhelming numbers."

Part of Keroack’s new job description is to distribute contraception information to low-income women as part of The Family Planning program, authorized under Title X of the Public Health Service Act.

But he had previously headed A Woman’s Concern, a Boston-based chain of clinics that promoted abstinence as the only form of contraception, as well as strict anti-abortion positions, points of view in contradiction to his new job as Title X’s overseer.

Under the terms of that program, Title X funds may not be used to pay for abortion procedures, but the office may give referrals for the procedures. Title X also distributes information and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and screenings for breast and cervical cancer. Approximately 4,500 clinics serving 5 million patients across the country are funded by Title X’s $’80 million budget.

At Tuesday’s NCJW meeting, Feldt, the author of "The War on Choice: The Right-Wing Attack on Women’s Rights and How to Fight Back," and "Behind Every Choice Is a Story," spoke about the need to stay vigilant about women’s rights. During her talk, she encouraged the members of NCJW to become more active in advocacy and pushing a clear agenda. "If we don’t have the right to our own bodily integrity, we don’t have anything," she said.

"There isn’t yet a pro-choice majority in Congress," she told the roomful of women at Tuesday’s meeting. About 50 percent of Congress is solidly anti-choice, while 30 percent to 40 percent are pro-choice. The rest are the swing votes and why strong lobbying is necessary, she said. "You have to take action and set the pattern quickly after an election."

The group that Keroack had headed, A Woman’s Concern, does not try to help women but rather just dissuade them from terminating pregnancies, she said.

"Keroack is either completely opposed to everything the Title X program stands for or he’s a big liar," Feldt told the Standard. "Either way, he shouldn’t be in charge of this program."

Fran Einiger, president of the Bergen County section of NCJW, said that the national office is handling all advocacy regarding protests against Keroack.

That office sent an action alert to its members on Nov. ‘1 requesting a flood of letters to President Bush and Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt, said Sammi Moshenberg, director of NCJW’s Washington operations. Next week the organization will begin distributing a sign-on letter for Jewish organizations to send to Bush and Leavitt, who were responsible for Keroack’s appointment. The position does not require Senate confirmation.

"I’m fairly confident that our folks in the field are really finding ways to register their concern and disapproval of this appointment," Moshenberg told the Standard on Wednesday. "This appointment is appalling. This is the absolute wrong person for this position."

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