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Family planning appointment is anti-reproductive rights

Published Nov 2, 2007 11:38 PM

The Bush administration has once again struck a blow against women’s rights and the health and well-being of millions of poor people.

In a move roundly denounced by national women’s and reproductive health organizations, Bush supporter and birth control foe Dr. Susan Orr was appointed to be the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs. No congressional confirmation is required.

An anti-family planning hardliner is now in charge of the national family planning program. The appointment reflects the intent of the Bush administration, in its last year in office, to roll back even further women’s fundamental rights and health care, especially targeting poor women.

The health of millions of women is at stake.

Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood president, warned, “The appointment of Susan Orr is a nightmare for anyone who believes in birth control and sex ed. ... Although President Bush may be in the waning months of his presidency, he continues to do damage to women’s reproductive health care every step of his presidency.” (plannedparenthood.org)

This is a powerful position with oversight over Title X funding under the Public Health Services Act, which provides contraceptive education and supplies, sex education, counseling and preventive health screenings. It has authority over information disseminated, program priorities, funding decisions and making new rules for more than 4,000 clinics.

Orr will oversee the Department of Health and Human Services’ nearly $300 million in annual grants—the only federal funding for free or low-cost reproductive health services for five million low-income and uninsured women. A disproportionately high number of these women are people of color.

Orr has a large portfolio of right-wing credentials. She has publicly deplored government support for birth control in education, policy and health insurance, and opposed emergency contraceptives and mifepristone (RU-496). As a board member of Teen Choice, she supports abstinence-only sex education programs for youth.

In supporting Bush’s plan to end federal employees’ contraceptive coverage, Orr remarked, “We’re quite pleased because fertility is not a disease. It’s not a medical necessity that you have [contraception].” (Washington Post, Apr. 12, 2001)

Critical of mandatory contraceptive coverage in health insurance plans, she wrote in the Weekly Standard in 2000: “It’s not about choice. It’s not about health care. It’s about making everyone collaborators with the culture of death.” Further, she opposed a bill giving women equal insurance benefits for birth control prescriptions in Washington, D.C.

Orr favored the Bush administration’s Global Gag Rule, which barred non-governmental organizations from receiving federal monies if their programs even mentioned the word “abortion.”

Her résumé includes being senior director for Marriage and Family Care at the far-right Family Research Council, an anti-choice, homophobic organization that opposes government support for all family planning and sex education, while promoting abstinence-only sex education for youth.

This so-called “pro-family values” outfit even opposed the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Their position, in part, alleges that it lets states provide family planning services to poor women. Bush recently vetoed the expansion of SCHIP to cover ten million children

As the Bush administration pushes its reactionary political agenda at the sacrifice of women’s and poor people’s health, the drive to dismantle social programs and cut federal funding for them—while fueling the war budget—rolls on.

The horrific “Deficit Reduction Act” of 2005, which cut $39 billion in federal programs including $11 billion for Medicare and Medicaid, had a hidden attack on students and youth, poor and uninsured women. It ended government rebates in 2007 to profit-driven drug makers for discounting prescription birth control at college health centers and free clinics. Monthly costs have gone from $7 to from $30 to $50.

Meanwhile, rightwing anti-contraceptive rhetoric is growing louder, espoused by not only anti-choice groups but many conservative politicians on the campaign trail, who are using this issue to whip up support.

The right-wing program has had an impact. A National Women’s Law Center study finds women’s health care is deteriorating nationally with “an overall decline in ... reproductive health, [due to] factors such as insufficient access to health clinics and emergency contraceptives.” (nwlc.org)

What is needed today is a national, militant mass struggle to push back Susan Orr, George Bush and their ilk and fight for women’s intrinsic rights.

Online petitions and letter-writing campaigns protesting Orr’s appointment are at plannedparenthood.org and prochoice.org, Web site of the National Abortion Federation.