Pro-lifers cheer local doctor’s federal appointment

TAUNTON -- Six-month-old Geneva Smithson has never met Dr. Eric Keroack, but she’s alive in part because of his pioneering work in ultrasound technology.

Keroack is the pro-life gynecologist named Nov. 17 by President George W. Bush to oversee federal family planning and abstinence programs.

A Marblehead resident, Keroack had served on the Salem Hospital staff since 1993 and supervised much of the ultrasound work for A Woman’s Concern, a non-profit group of crisis pregnancy centers in eastern and southeastern Massachusetts.

At one of the centers last year, Geneva’s mother Angela Smithson of Taunton saw an ultrasound of her unborn daughter’s heart beating.

“Everyone in my life at the time was telling me to have an abortion,” she said in an interview. “I was really torn. I knew this was a baby, but it wasn’t until I saw the ultrasound that it really hit me -- she’s alive!”

Smithson, 31, credits the counselors and ultrasound technicians at A Woman’s Concern with giving her the support to continue her pregnancy.

“They were excited about the baby, but they never pressured me. I was able to make an informed decision,” she said. “Before, I believed in God on and off, but I thought that having this child would ruin my life. Instead, everything that she’s needed has been provided for, and she’s been the beginning of my life. I’m so glad I made that decision.”

Stories like Smithson’s don’t make national news, but they motivated Keroack to work for nominal pay the past six years with A Woman’s Concern. The faith-based group has offices in Boston, Brookline, Revere, Beverly, Fall River and Hyannis.

What did make national news was Keroack’s appointment as the new deputy assistant secretary of population affairs under U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

A storm of vitriolic criticism ensued from pro-abortion advocates because of the doctor’s pro-life background and his work in discouraging pre-marital sex.

A graduate of Tufts University School of Medicine, Keroack also served on an advisory panel to define guidelines for federally funded abstinence education programs, according to Dr. John Agwunobi, DHH Assistant Secretary for Health. He noted that Keroack is nationally recognized for his work in preventing teen pregnancy and explaining sexual risk behaviors.

Twenty-one pro-abortion congressmen called for President Bush to rescind the appointment. They were joined by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a major recipient of family planning funds and the nation’s leading abortion provider.

“This is all over Dr. Keroack’s objection to contraception,” said Mark Conrad, president of A Woman’s Concern. “The irony is that more than half the women that come to us were using some form of birth control. We just try our best to ensure that women get the truth.”

Keroack’s appointment does not require Senate approval.

He began in late November at his new post, where he will oversee the distribution of $30 million annually under the abstinence-oriented Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs and $283 million in annual family-planning grants. According to HHS, these grants are “designed to provide access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them with priority given to low-income persons” under the Title X Family Planning Program.

Keroack will not speak with the press for several weeks, HHS spokeswoman Rebecca Ayer said Dec. 6.

The storm of hostile “pro-choice” reaction stems from fear that now contraception-based programs may lose a portion of federal monies, according to Concerned Women for America. Spokeswoman Janice Crouse said Planned Parenthood has been able to provide abortion facilities and abortions without any restrictions because it has had an “unobstructed way to the federal trough,” according to a Nov. 27 Agape Press report.

“This appointment is good news,” Bea Martins, coordinator of Catholic Citizenship for the Fall River Diocese, said in an interview. “We know abstinence is best, but we’re dealing with a secular world. Planned Parenthood is offering free courses on condom use that teachers can receive continuing education credits for. We want to see that abstinence is at least a portion of the health program.”

Martins is also on the steering committee for A Woman’s Concern, which opposes contraception-based family planning programs.

Just how strongly the contraceptive mentality has taken root can be seen in the uproar over Keroack’s appointment, Jennifer Roback Morse wrote Dec. 5 in National Review Online.

Morse, an author and former Yale University professor, noted that Keroack’s warning of the “substantial emotional risks associated with casual sex” is hardly fear-mongering. Still, his critics are outraged because he advocates abstinence as the most reliable method of pregnancy and STD prevention.

A statement by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council concluded that Keroack “will follow the law as it relates to family planning, but abstinence and public health measures like partner reduction are in his portfolio as well.”