Friday, November 17, 2006


Melinda Henneberger: Bush's Pick to Head Family Planning: What Is He Thinking?

by Melinda Henneberger

It is tricky business, speculating about other people's motivations. Which never stopped me before, heaven knows. And here I am, tempted again today, when I see the news that President Bush has just appointed a man who seems not to believe in birth control to run the government's family planning programs.

Today's Washington Post reports that the new chief of family planning programs for the Department of Health and Human Services is...Eric Keroack, an ob-gyn from Massachusetts who previously worked for a Christian pregnancy counseling outfit where birth control is considered "demeaning to women.''

The appointment, to oversee $283 million in government grants "designed to provide access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them with priority given to low-income persons,'' does not require Senate confirmation.

So, why would the president choose this guy?

As we know, he is nothing if not consistent, so maybe he just wanted a choice in keeping with all of the Environmental Protection Agency appointees who used to work for polluters. (Like William Wehrum, assistant administrator for the agency's air and radiation office; he's a lawyer who represented the timber industry before he came to the EPA, where his previous credits include co-authoring the infamous "Clear Skies'' legislation, and implementing lax new mercury emissions guidelines. Or Elin Miller, the former pesticide industry exec who was just chosen to head the EPA's regional office in Seattle. Or Granta Nakayama, head of EPA enforcement, who used to lobby for the snowmobile industry.)

Another possibility is that Mr. Bush is belatedly pandering to his Christian base, in the same way he gave in to Donald Rumsfeld's critics the day after the election.

Then again, maybe this really is a simple stand of conscience - though the fact that the president's wife and mom are openly pro-choice has always made me doubt he would dare to differ quite so dramatically.

It could also be a simple flip-off to the Democrats, and all the women who voted for them, from a man who follows his gut no matter what.

We'll never know for sure what drove his decision, of course. But the effect of his choice is not at all difficult to decipher: Less access to birth control means more unwanted pregnancies, more abortions, and many more happy years of fighting over the issue, which has been very, very good to the Republican Party. Abortion got a rare night off last Tuesday, overshadowed by the war in Iraq and other scandals. But it will be back.

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