Family Health Council Denies San Bernardino County Bid to Ban Emergency Contraception
California health officials on Friday denied San Bernardino County's request to ban emergency contraceptives in public clinics, "setting the stage for a highly anticipated test" of the Bush administration's position on family planning, the Los Angeles Times reports. In a letter to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, the California Family Health Council -- a not-for-profit group that distributes federal family planning funds in the state -- said that the county's request "does not reflect any understanding of the purpose, mechanisms or safety of hormonal emergency contraception," a decision that "formalizes a tentative ruling" issued last month. County Supervisor Bill Postmus, an "outspoken social conservative" who has "led the charge to ban the pill," dismissed the health council's decision as "left-leaning" and vowed to appeal the decision to the Bush administration (Gold, Los Angeles Times, 6/2). San Bernardino County sought to ban the pills, which "some see as a form of abortion," in county-run health clinics, fearing that they "will be distributed to teenage girls" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/2). However, the health council suggested that the county's "misguided" efforts to ban EC in public clinics would "violate state and federal law." According to the article, without a federal waiver, the county by law must provide EC at public clinics that receive federal family planning funding. "We have 25 years of evidence showing how strong and effective [EC] is," Anita Nelson, a medical adviser to the health council, said, adding, "The thought that this would not be made available to poor women in San Bernardino County is horrifying." HHS will address the county's request for a waiver to ban the pills, but Margie Fites Seigle, the health council's CEO, said that she "does not believe there will be a different result there." She added, "I think that the medical and the scientific information is so clear and so solid. I am very comfortable with the rationale of our response and believe it's correct."
Still, supporters of the county's request "held out hope" Friday that the Bush administration would "step in." Postmus called Friday's health council decision "hardly a surprise," adding that HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson will likely issue the final decision. "We'll send this to the proper channels," he said, adding, "I think all sides should not have any problem with having this go to the administration and let[ting] them make a decision." However, HHS officials "cast doubt" Friday on the county's "chances of success." Ronald Banks, regional health administrator for HHS in San Francisco -- where an appeal "would likely go next" -- expressed "doubts" that the county could meet the government's standard of "exceptional circumstances" required for a waiver. "This would make women in San Bernardino County the only women in California to have this tool taken away from them. I think that would certainly contravene the intent of Congress," he said (Los Angeles Times, 6/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.