News Releases

Senators Murray, Clinton And Kennedy Lead Coalition Of Senators Speaking Out Against Appointment To Health Post

Oct 18 2007

Vocal Opponent of Contraception Equity to Oversee Population Control Funding

Washington, D.C. – Senators Murray, Clinton and Kennedy today led a coalition of Senators in sending a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt urging the Administration to withdraw its appointment of Dr. Susan Orr as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs.  In this position, Dr. Orr – whose record directly contradicts her appointed duties – will oversee the Title X program which funds the only low-cost family planning and health screening services for millions of low-income and uninsured Americans.  Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), John F. Kerry (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chris Dodd (D-CT),  Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) joined in sending today’s letter.

“The American people deserve a qualified public health expert who will ensure that the needs of women and families are met. In light of Dr. Orr’s ideological record on Title X services, we urge you to withdraw her appointment and select an appointee who will actively implement Title X as intended by Congress under current law,” the Senators wrote. 

Dr. Orr has been a vocal opponent of contraception equity, while often urging the Administration to put personal beliefs before facts. Prior to joining the Bush Administration, Dr. Orr was a director for an organization whose ideologically-driven agenda opposed the scientifically-based FDA approval of Plan B.  In this position, Dr. Orr applauded a Bush proposal to halt requiring all health insurance plans for federal employees to cover an extensive range of birth control. Dr. Orr also encouraged President Bush to overrule scientists and doctors to revoke FDA-approval for RU-486.

Last November, the Senators joined eleven of their colleagues in opposing the nomination of another anti-contraception advocate, Eric Keroack to the same position which lead to his resignation. The appointment of Dr. Orr continues the Bush Administration tradition of placing ideology before science.

At the urging of the Administration, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) repeatedly blocked the over-the-counter application of the emergency contraceptive Plan B despite the overwhelming support of the agency's own scientific advisory panel. The agency finally suggested approval only after a years-long fight with Congress led by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY).  The trumping of science by ideology is also illustrated with President Bush's veto of scientifically backed stem cell research. 

The following is the text of the letter to Secretary Leavitt:

October 18, 2007

The Honorable Michael Leavitt
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Leavitt,

We write to express our deep concern over the appointment of Dr. Susan Orr to be Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs. 

The office to which Dr. Orr has been appointed gives her the authority over Title X which funds low-cost, confidential family planning and health screening services that would otherwise be out of reach for millions of Americans.  Dr. Orr would also oversee counseling and providing information to women on a broad range of family planning and reproductive services, including contraception.

Dr. Orr has a troubling history of opposing federal funding for contraception, which is counter to the mission of the office to which she has been appointed. In 2001, she spoke in favor of a Bush administration plan to drop a requirement that health insurance for federal employees must cover birth control. “We’re quite pleased because fertility is not a disease,” she said at the time on contraception. “It’s not a medical necessity that you have it.”

Dr. Orr also publicly urged President Bush to overrule scientists and doctors to revoke FDA-approval of RU-486. Before joining the Bush Administration, she had been a senior director of an organization that labeled the scientifically-based  FDA approval of Plan B “a grave threat to women’s health.”

Unfortunately, this nomination is part of a disturbing Administration pattern of disregarding science and placing ideology ahead of sound decisions on women’s health. In fact, last November, many of us opposed the nomination of Eric Keroack to the same position because of similar concerns. 

The American people deserve a qualified public health expert who will ensure that the needs of women and families are met. In light of Dr. Orr’s ideological record on Title X services, we urge you to withdraw her appointment and select an appointee who will actively implement Title X as intended by Congress under current law.

Sincerely,

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Patty Murray
Barbara Mikulski