A perplexing story popped up in my Google alerts the other day. It was
from The Hoya, Georgetown University’s college newspaper, and the
headline read: "Med Center Receives Research Grant for Natural Family Planning."
Georgetown is a Catholic university which aroused my suspicions; after
all, in the 21st century, the Catholic Church still bans contraception for
its adherents. The research grant was from HHS, for $600,000. Not much
as research grants go, but in this economy spending money to research a
quote-unquote contraceptive method with a failure rate of 25% seems
I poked around the website of the grant recipients, The Institute for Reproductive Health (not to be confused with the National Institute for Reproductive Health
to which I am a consultant) and, unlike most natural family planning
endeavors, there were actual MDs at work on the project–in particular
those with real field experience in family planning. Several were former USAID and UNFPA employees.
I also happened to have a chat with a colleague with impressive
pro-choice credentials who described the lead researcher, Dr. Victoria
Jennings, in glowing terms. Typically, this would be enough to put my
mind at ease and dim the flashing warning sign. That’s if it weren’t
for the following passage in the article,
The $600,000 award will enable researchers not only to
make natural family planning methods accessible for Title X clients,
but also "to test strategies to overcome barriers that limit the
availability and use of natural family planning methods by individuals
who get their health care through this government-funded program,"
according to a medical center press release.
goal is to integrate "natural family planning" into the array of
contraceptive services offered to Title X recipients. First of all,
it’s worth repeating that the typical failure rate is 25%. (Withdrawal
is 27%.) And that’s of those dedicated 2% of Americans who even try it,
a slim percentage who are most likely very religious and fervent in
their belief that natural family planning works. Now, a few Title X facts
could come in handy. 70% of Title X clients are unmarried. 28% of
Title X clients are teens. If natural family planning which requires a
couple to have sex only at prescribed times of the month, and doesn’t work
within stable relationships, imagine how impressive the failure rate
will be among the actively dating.
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Here’s my real suspicion. The Bush appointees are still running the
shop over at the unmanned HHS – recall that the Daschle debacle left
the agency without a head – of which the Title X program is a subset.
It seems this grant is like the baubles Madoff sent to family members
in the weeks after his scam was exposed. The anti-contraception crew is
still at work at Title X off loading the family’s jewels to friends.
These are the officials, remember, who defended the abstinence-only
approach in the face of conclusive evidence it fails and who think
contraceptives are "demeaning to women."
Getting a prestigious university like Georgetown, with its
Vatican-mandated anti-contraception agenda, to endorse natural family
planning for the poor appears to be a slick way to make crisis
pregnancy centers eligible for Title X funding. What witting or
unwitting role the esteemed MDs are playing in this is not yet clear.
But don’t forget that crisis pregnancy centers refuse to tell women
grappling with unwanted pregnancy the most effective way to prevent
another. A long-term goal of the anti-contraception movement is to
validate, in a scientific-seeming way, the anti-contraception
"contraceptive." This is the Bush administration still at work, the
very people who lead the campaigns against contraception still at the
wheel and driving funds to those who support their ideology.
We should get loud about this. If only as a way to vent about the
anti-contraception stunt staged during the stimulus debate. They moaned
about spending money on contraception, which by the way, turned out not to be in the bill, but never mind. Meanwhile the Bush team is cutting
checks and mailing them to friends.