A Nation Divided Over Birth Control

As the feds veer right, some local governments are lurching to the left.

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While President Bush last week appointed yet another religious conservative to head the Department of Health and Human Services' family planning division, a school board in Maine approved birth control prescriptions for middle school students. The federal government marches ever further right while local government, in some instances, anyway, lurches left.

In the first story. Susan Orr, who hails from the ultraconservative Family Research Council, will now manage more than $280 million in annual federal grants. Most of those target low-income families to help them afford contraceptives. That, even though she's a public opponent of birth control.

The Feminist Majority's Daily News Wire (feminist.org) reports, "In 2001, when Orr was senior director for marriage and families at the right-wing Family Research Council, she expressed delight when Bush proposed dropping a requirement that federal employees' health insurance cover more than one type of birth control... . 'because fertility is not a disease. It's not a medical necessity that you have [birth control].' "

Agreed, Ms. Orr, that fertility is not a disease. Pregnancy, however, is a medical condition, and there are plenty of medical devices and drugs designed to prevent medical conditions.

Orr replaces the wildly controversial Eric Keroack. Before joining the administration, Keroack directed an antiabortion Christian crisis pregnancy center and resigned five months into his federal post after the Massachusetts medical board notified him it was investigating complaints of unprofessional behavior and writing prescriptions to nonpatients in his private practice.

In the second story, a school board in Portland, Maine, voted to allow a middle school health center to prescribe birth control for 11-to-13-year-old students. Students need their parents' permission to use health center services. But state law prevents the center from telling parents if their children ask for contraceptives. The Maine school is going ahead with giving out birth control to students without parental notification.

Most Americans are probably somewhere in the middle on contraception—not wanting to deny access to poor people, nor wanting preteens to get it without parental permission.

But since there seems to be a lack of middle ground in American politics today, we get a huge divide on this issue, as on so many others.