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Health Dept. Official Resigns After Pushing Condoms

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A top medical official at the New Mexico Department of Health was forced to resign last week just hours after she was quoted in a television interview advocating the use of condoms to control sexually transmitted diseases.

Dr. Erin Bouquin said she resigned under pressure Thursday as the agency’s chief medical officer after KOAT-TV aired an interview in which she urged New Mexicans to “use condoms” to combat a spike in STD rates.

Bouquin said Tuesday her remarks about condoms were the most likely explanation for her dismissal from the $160,000-a-year post.

“It’s a question of the timing,” Bouquin said. “I don’t think it was very good timing if it wasn’t related” to the interview.

She said Health Secretary Catherine Torres told her only that she had not met the governor’s expectations.

State officials responded that Bouquin’s resignation, less than four months after she was hired, had no connection to her comments in the interview.

Department of Health spokeswoman Aimee Barabe said Bouquin’s dismissal was part of an agency reorganization that included several changes in top staff members.

“Any insinuation that (Bouquin’s) change in employment is related to contraception policy is false and unfortunate,” Barabe said. Top officials were not aware of the content of Bouquin’s interview, she said.

Leadership changes included the resignation Thursday of Wally Vette as deputy director of programs. Vette couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

Scott Darnell, a spokesman for Gov. Susanna Martinez, said in a written statement that Martinez gave the Department of Health “no direction or involvement” about Bouquin’s employment.

“The governor is a proponent of taking a balanced and multi-pronged approach to controlling the spread of sexually transmitted diseases; there is nothing in Dr. Bouquin’s interview that would conflict with that approach,” Darnell said.

Bouquin noted that the department has applied for a federal grant to pay for abstinence-only education to curb sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy. The message of condom use contradicts the abstinence-only approach, she said.

Bouquin said she agreed to the KOAT interview to discuss data showing a spike in gonorrhea and chlamydia rates. The increases include a 90 percent increase in gonorrhea rates among girls ages 15-19 from 2010 to 2011, she said.

“That’s definitely the news,” Bouquin said. “That’s why I don’t want to make it about me. I think it’s important that we don’t shy away from the important issues.”
— This article appeared on page C02 of the Albuquerque Journal

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