World Magazine calls out the NAE on contraception!

The NAE is supposed to be the voice of evangelicals. Has it also become an unbiblical voice to evangelicals?

So asks Marvin Olasky. In the latest edition of his prominent conservative news magazine, Olasky excoriates the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) for their connections to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. What is the issue at hand? Contraception use among singles.

It has often been argued that if evangelicals really are against abortion because they want to “save babies,” they should be in favor of contraceptive use, as it decreases abortion. This issue of World offers two insights: first, an excellent explanation of why leading evangelicals like Olasky oppose encouraging the use of contraception, and second, the revelation that some evangelicals, such as the current head of the NAE, are starting to rock the boat. 

Here are the facts: The NAE took $1 million dollars from the National Campaign, a group that heavily supports contraceptive use. The NAE then heavily pressured the Q Gathering, an evangelical conference, to bring in Sarah Brown, the CEO of the National Campaign, to take part in a panel on sexuality, and in that panel Brown argued vehemently that churches should encourage their singles to use contraception.

Are Evangelicals in Favor of Contraception?

After discussing the Q Gathering panel, which, largely because of Brown, appeared to lean toward encouraging singles to use contraception, Olasky says the following:

News reports noted that result as evidence that the debate over contraceptive use by the unmarried is over, since even evangelicals favor it. This was the second time the Campaigns grant to the NAE had paid off propagandistically. In 2010 the NAE used some of the grant to commission a Gallup poll with a key question worded to make it seem that 90 percent of evangelical favor contraception generally – and the Campaign trumpeted that finding.

The Campaign’s “Facts About Contraception” policy brief states, “A Gallup poll of evangelicals found that 90% supported contraception.” The Campaign, unsurprisingly, did not distinguish between married and unmarried use of contraception – but neither did the NAE when it used the Campaign’s grant to pay for the poll.

Olasky thus accuses the NAE of allowing itself to be used for propaganda by the National Campaign, creating a situation in which the Campaign can argue that evangelicals support contraceptive use among the unmarried when in fact they don’t. At issue here is an important distinction, that between married and unmarried sexual activity. Contraceptive use among married couples? That’s just fine and dandy! Contraceptive use among unmarried couples? Wait. Unmarried couples are having sex??? You get the idea.

The NAE Rocks the Boat: Contraception to Prevent Abortion

Evangelicals oppose premarital sex. But they are also against abortion, arguing that it is the same as murder. For progressives, it seems obvious that the best way to decrease abortion rates is to encourage contraception use, including the use of contraception among those who are not married. It seems that some, such as Leith Anderson, the current president of the NAE, are starting to agree (which helps explain the connections between the NAE and the National Campaign):

The Church is understandably reluctant to recommend contraception for unmarried sexual partners, given that it cannot condone extramarital sex. However, it is even more tragic when unmarried individuals compound one sin by conceiving and then destroying the precious gift of life.

The goal, according to Anderson, is not to encourage or condone premarital sex but rather to prevent unplanned pregnancies and thus prevent the deaths of unborn babies (i.e. abortion).

Olasky: Encouraging Contraception Condones Premarital Sex

Olasky argues that Anderson’s position – condemning sex outside of marriage but supporting contraceptive use in an effort to prevent abortion – is untenable and even hypocritical.

Immediately prior to the panel summaried in our page 9 news story, some 400 Q participants were asked what they thought of a local Christian church taking this position: “The Bible teaches that sex outside of marriage is wrong. But if you are going to be sexually active otuside of marriage, we encourage you to use contraceptives to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.”

Two-thirds agreed with the statement, “This would make it seem like the church was telling people it’s OK to have sex with people outside of marriage.” Most said, “This would be hypocritical – they can’t say that sex outside marriage is wrong, then tell them to do it safely.” Almost half said, “This would just encourage more unmarried people to be sexually active.”

In other words, Olasky argues that encouraging the use of contraception among singles in an effort to bring down the abortion rate condones premarital sex. And it appears that most evangelicals agree with him. But there’s more.

Olasky: Does Contraception REALLY Decrease Abortion Rates?

In addition to arguing that encouraging contraceptive use condones premarital sex, Olasky suggests that contraceptive use actually increases abortion rather than decreasing it:

Evangelicals disagree on whether contraceptive use, since it enables more extramarital sexual activity, leads to more abortions. Birth control pills have an 8 percent failure rate during their first year of use, and many women who use them for years become pregnant, sooner or later. (Half of the women unhappily surprised by pregnancy used contraception durign the month in whcih they concieved.)

And Olasky makes another argument: contraception has created “a new slavery” for women:

Contraception among the unmarried, sold as liberating, has created a new slavery: Many young women feel pushed into sexual activity because guys want them to do what “everyone else” is doing, purportedly risk-free.

In other words, Olasky argues that contraception may increase abortion rates by leading people to have premarital sex who wouldn’t otherwise, and also argues that contraception is far less reliable than it is often thought, and that its failure then also increases the abortion rate. And, he argues, contraception actually creates a new slavery for women (somehow I’m not sure I can think of a more upside down argument!).

Olasky: Condoning one sin to prevent another?

But even with all of this, Olasky does take a moment to ask whether, if it were proven that contraception decreases abortion rates, the church should encourage contraception:

Most evangelicals understand that abortion breaks God’s command regarding murder – so what if we were to find that contraceptive use among the unmarried reduces the number of abortions? Should evangelical leaders then urge this use of contraceptives, or should they focus on other otpions? Does God put us in a box where the only way to avoid one sin is to commit or condone another?

That’s not what the Bible teaches.

In other words, it is wrong to condone one sin (premarital sex) in an effort to prevent another (abortion).

And Olasky goes on, pointing out that many evangelicals see other approaches – “biblical” approaches – as more effective in reducing abortions than contraception:

And even the Q pre-panel poll showed only 15 percent of respondents stating that “free contraception” is “the most effective way of reducing hte number of abortions.” Two biblical approaches – “crisis pregnancy counseling” and “abstinence based education” – recieved the most support. Many churches could also do a better job of showing the beauty of marriage – not in a scolding way, but in a way that rejoices in God’s loving provision for us.

Thus Olasky is clearly arguing directly against trying to bring down abortion rates by encouraging contraception in any way. Instead of encouraging contraception – a tactic he says may actually increase abortion rates – Olasky argues that the solution to the abortion problem should be to teach people not to have sex, to urge people to get married, and to encourage women with unplanned pregnancies to carry them to term.


After laying all this out, Olasky finishes by slamming the NAE:

The NAE states that its mission “to honor God by connecting and representing evangelical Christians,” but how does it honor God to promote the anti-biblical doctrines of the National Campaign?

I have to admit, these articles surprised me. I didn’t realize that the NAE was toying with encouraging contraception in an effort to bring down abortion rates, but I’m glad to learn that they are. And I also didn’t expect to see World Magazine argue so strongly against using contraception to bring down abortion rates. This split among evangelicals is interesting, and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the future.

Marvin Olasky, “Strange Bedfellows,” 9-11, and “Turned,” 88, World Magazine, July 14, 2012.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • machintelligence

    I have heard that among Catholics there is a “sin calculus” that favors abortion over contraception. It works like this: abortion is a mortal sin, but so is each act of contraception, therefore it is better to have an abortion than to use contraception multiple times. It makes a sort of warped sense, but I think it has fallen out of favor with the Catholic faithful, most of whom now believe that the RCC is wrong about birth control.

    • minuteye

      Also, don’t you have to be remorseful in order to be forgiven for a sin? It sounds like it would be difficult to claim remorse about taking your birth control pill, and then take another one the next day.

    • Tracey

      Since upwards of 90% of Catholics use contraception, I agree with you that what is preached is not actually what is practiced.

      • savvy


        The actual percentage is 68%, according to the same survey. The previous ones had errors that were corrected.

    • Rachel

      As a catholic, I find this insulting. You also don’t understand catholic theology very well. If you commit ONE mortal sin, you have fallen out of a state of grace. If you were to die without repenting, you would go to hell. If you commit ten thousand mortal sins, see above. It doesn’t matter the number. What matters is that you turned your back on God and chose your will over His.

      Tracey, yes, a lot of Catholics use contraception. A lot of Protestants lie. This makes neither contraception nor lying right. What we should care about is whether or not something is right or wrong, not whether a lot of people do it. The Catholic church teaches that contraception is wrong. If a lot of Catholics choose to ignore that it doesn’t make the Catholic church wrong – it makes a lot of Catholics wrong in their personal practices. You may disagree with the teaching of the Catholic church, but please don’t use this as a reason.

      • machintelligence

        You are quite right that I do not understand Catholic theology at all. Neither, apparently do most Catholics. This may be because it makes no sense.
        blockquote>It doesn’t matter the number.
        Why not commit ten thousand mortal sins, then, if repentance is a get out of hell free card? With God all things are possible. It makes no sense to me, but I am not a sophisticated theologian.

      • Anat

        The Catholic church teaches that contraception is wrong. If a lot of Catholics choose to ignore that it doesn’t make the Catholic church wrong – it makes a lot of Catholics wrong in their personal practices.

        Logically, either could be true, you know. Your belief in Catholic theology doesn’t make it true. All we can say about self-identified Catholics who practice contraception is that their self-identity as Catholics does not include all Catholic practices as the Catholic church teaches, and that they make their choices of right and wrong based on sources other than Catholic teachings.

    • Kim

      And that’s why more Catholics get abortions than anyone else.

  • SophieUK

    Surely abortion must be seen as a worse sin than contraception use? I wasn’t raised in America and don’t know all the ins and outs of “American style” Christianity but I thought murder and denying the holy spirit were the only sins that God couldn’t forgive (and which lead to a loss of salvation)?

    And surely if people “sin” by having sex outside marriage, it isn’t right to raise the odds that someone else (ie a an unborn “baby”) pays the price for this sin. Don’t evangelicals believe that God will punish the sin anyway, some other way?

  • SophieUK

    And has anyone ever asked a fundie why they think God gives babies to women he knows are going to abort them? Surely if he makes a concious choice to put a “baby” in harms way then he has to accept some, if not all of the responsibility when harm eventually and inevitably comes to that “baby”? Isn’t he choosing that outcome by setting up the system like that?

  • Monimonika

    One very bad effect that the abstinence-until-marriage idea I see is that there would be couples marrying mostly for the purpose of having sex (or maybe to justify having had sex beforehand) and then later on having marital problems that lead to divorce, affairs, and/or a miserable marriage.

    • smrnda

      I think the whole purity perspective on relationships damages the ability for men and women to relate to each other on a mature level. Marriage turns into ‘the place where you can have sex’ and people get married not because they are compatible or ready, but because they don’t want to risk having sex before they are married. So all the hard work of building a relationships happens after getting married and not before.

      A friend of mine told me that she was happy her parents never made her think that having sex before you were married was tragic. She said if she’d been taught that, she would have gotten married when the real issue was just wanting to have sex, but that having sex got it out of the way and allowed her to focus on other things.

  • Eamon Knight

    Try changing the specifics and see how it sounds: Don’t get drunk (which is also a Christian belief), but if you do commit the sin of getting drunk, for heaven’s sake don’t try to drive home and risk killing someone!

    Can that be construed as condoning drunkenness?

    And this: Contraception among the unmarried, sold as liberating, has created a new slavery: Many young women feel pushed into sexual activity because guys want them to do what “everyone else” is doing, purportedly risk-free.

    IOW: Women are too weak-minded to stand up for themselves and make their own choices, so we shouldn’t allow them options that give them more control over their lives; their poor ladee-brainz just can’t handle it. Conservative Christianity is misogynist at its root.

    I also expect they’re just lying about the failure stats. My engagement with creationists taught me that conservative Christians simply cannot be trusted with scientific facts when their ideology is at stake.

    • elburto

      They are lying. There’s nothing that magically stops hormonal contraception from working after a set amount of time. As for an 8% failure rate, well that’s mostly wrong too. It. depends on how the pill is used. The majority of “pill pregnancies” are due to misuse of the method, ie. missed or late pills.

  • Lisa

    Not that I find anything wrong with an unmarried person having sex, using contraception, or having an abortion, but I get so frustrated with the assumption that only unmarried teenagers have abortions. I was an adult, married for 6 years when I had mine. There’s so much wrong with the “sex is only for the marrieds!” like of thinking anyway, but besides that the whole “contraception to prevent abortion means encouraging non-marital sex” is pretty ridiculous. Not ever married person wants to or can realistically be pregnant/pregnant again or have children/more children, and married people do have abortions too.

    • Libby Anne

      I absolutely agree! I’ve talked to my husband about this, and the reality is that if, after having our (very planned) second child, we were to conceive a third, we would probably have an abortion. We simply don’t have the money right now, or the time, for a third child. Of course, I’m getting myself on some powerful birth control so that shouldn’t be an issue, but, if it should fail, well…

    • Rosie

      My story is similar. I had been taught for so many years that it was “ok” to have sex after marriage only because it was “ok” to have kids after marriage that I was pretty shocked to find that marriage didn’t magically make me willing to have children! That, in fact, I was as terrified of the prospect after signing that paper as I had been before. The ONLY thing that has allowed me to relax and enjoy sex with my husband is knowing that I can and WILL, should contraceptives fail, abort.

  • Karen

    Modern birth control, when used *consistently*, has an extremely low failure rate. But that means you need to take that pill every day, get the injections exactly on the right time schedule, use the condom/cup AND spermicide every single time, or whatever. Inconsistency is what trips most people up… and let’s face it, we humans are generally not inclined to be uber-consistent!

    But the notion that the statement “if you unmarried people absolutely insist on having sex and don’t want a baby, use birth control” implies that unmarried sex is okay, just floors me. It’s like saying “if you must sin, don’t drag an innocent third party into it” implies “it’s okay to sin”. Huh???

    (Of course, my opinion on unmarried sex is “are they adults? If so, why is it any of my business?”

    • Conuly

      Indeed, when you take consistency into account (for example, the real-world failure rate of condoms is more ‘people not using them’ than ‘people not using them correctly’) you find that abstinence doesn’t have such a hot real-world success rate either.

  • lys

    Are singles (christian or otherwise) really so stupid or unable to make decisions that they need a pastor from the pulpit telling them to use birth control if they are having premarital sex? I get why the couples who weren’t “intending” to become sexually active may not use birth control. But really? Grown up christians who are making the choice to have premarital sex shouldn’t need the church to educate them on using birth control. If you are an adult going to chuch and decide you are fine with premarital sex why the heck would a pastor saying singles should be using bith control make you go out and get some? I am a christian and didn’t have premarital sex, but if I had I sure as hell would have taken responsibility for it and not needed the church to educate me on how to safely practice something it didn’t condone. Just seems weird to me. Obviously the case about making good decisions is different with sexually active teenagers and young adults. I just don’t see pastors endorsing singles using birth control as really accomplishing much.

    And birth control is definitely not fool proof at all. Obviously this is just anecdotal, but in my case birth control has not been successful, several times. I’ve had three unplanned pregnancies using three different forms of bc. While using the pill religiously I became pregnant and had a miscarriage. My daughter was conceived by accident using NFP, and my current was conceived while properly using a diaphragm with twice as much spermicidal as called for. This current will be number 5 for us which is a very overwhelming prospect but I personally could not consider abortion. A vasectomy is not an option for various reasons so after this pregnancy we will see if a tubal ligation does the trick… With my track record I am definitley nervous that I will still get pregnant. Most of the couples I know that are my age who are done having kids have gone for vasectomies. I often wonder if I am just different or if other women my age using the forms of birth control I’m using after being done having kids have had my experience. It is very frustrating to say the least that I have to have a surgical procedure to stop having kids.

    • Rosa

      most people I know who are really done have gone with surgical options, too – vasectomy (because it’s cheaper and less invasive) or tubal if they have the foresight to ask for it before a c-section, or both, or surgical and also barrier method.

      I’m sorry about all the accidental pregnancies. It’s pure bad luck to be the 1% or whatever that experiences failure, and then have it happen again – but it does happen. We had a friend who had so many accidental babies on so many different forms of bc, we started thinking maybe her husband was sabotaging it somehow.

    • smrnda


      I don’t think that Christians – married or single – are really stupid enough to need information from the pulpit, but (I’m not a Christian) my experience attending a few large evangelical churches is that members are taught to ‘humble themselves’ and sit and listen to teaching for the pulpit that would sound patronizing to your average teenager. They are taught that they aren’t supposed to make decisions without some imprimatur from the church, and that no matter what the issue, they should be eagerly waiting for the church to feed them the right perspective on any issue. Basically, religion teaches adults to be like children who can’t think for themselves – they are told they are not supposed to.

  • Nathaniel

    Can these people even hear themselves? “No condoms, not even if it prevents murder.” Oh yeah. From their perspective, this is MURDER we’re talking about.

    These people again and again reveal the real reason they hate abortion and contraception is because of all the sex without horrible consequences it allows people to have. They prefer lots of illegal abortions and lots of dead people so long as sex is dangerous and stressful.

    • Rosa

      They’ve been hearing themselves saying “No condoms, even if it prevents AIDS” for decades, so yeah: they can hear themselves. They don’t care.

    • savvy


      A person will only be respected to the extent the act that created them is respected. Many people here see abortion has a back-up plan in case contraception fails, hence contraceptive use does not reduce abortion rates.

      • Nathaniel

        Except it does. Or maybe you have a better explanation for the otherwise totally unexplained differences in pregnancy rates between those who use contraception and those who don’t.

        And your first sentence makes no sense. How is using contraception disrespectful to reproduction?

      • Anat

        Ahem, in well over 20 years of contraception use I never had an unplanned pregnancy. If I ever had such a pregnancy I would have aborted it. I’d say my use of contraception probably prevented quite a few abortions. How many abortions per woman are there among people who use contraception – even if we include very inconsistent use? And how many among consistent users?

  • AnotherOne

    I suspect that the NAE’s poll is onto something, and that many evangelicals (at least younger ones) favor discouraging extramarital sex, but still encouraging the use of birth control among those who engage in it. At least, that’s the position of the many evangelicals of my generation that I know. Olasky represents a different generation, and I don’t think he fully realizes that.

    But this is far from the first time the NAE has caused controversy in evangelical circles. Their position on the environment has also raised the hackles of the uber conservatives, as have their interfaith initiatives. Rich Cizik, who led the global warming initiative about which this article speaks, was eventually forced out of the NAE because he expressed an opinion in favor of civil unions:

  • ScottInOH

    Libby Anne, are evangelicals “fine” with contraception within marriage, or is there a split there, as well? The Catholic Church, as you know, is adamantly NOT fine with it.

    Eamon Knight’s statement, “Christians simply cannot be trusted with scientific facts when their ideology is at stake,” should be put on a bumper sticker or something.

    • Libby Anne

      Most evangelicals are fine with contraception within marriage, with a couple of caveats. First, any contraception that uses hormones is frequently held to cause abortions (the idea is that it might keep a fertilized embryo from implanting), and second, if a couple decided not to have children at all they might well be seen as selfish or rejecting God’s plan or something. There are, however, some more conservative evangelicals who do see contraception within marriage as a problem, both because it subverts God’s plan for the family and because using contraception means not trusting God to control your fertility. BUT, even then Catholics are generally out there on their own.

  • BabyRaptor

    Abstinence-only education has the highest failure rate of…Probably anything ever. Do these people just not see the numbers, or are they choosing to ignore the truth?

    Also, crisis pregnancy centers lie to the women that go there. I’ve personally had this happen to me. They do everything they can, witholding information, to make sure that the woman doesn’t think about abortion. They aren’t actually trying to help.

    If they truly care about lowering the abortion rate, I’d suggest they start by learning what “truth,” “integrity,” and “respect” are.

    • BabyRaptor

      *Including witholding information. -_- Sorry

  • Joy

    I love these quotes of Olasky because they’re so problematic:

    Birth control pills have an 8 percent failure rate during their first year of use, and many women who use them for years become pregnant, sooner or later.

    Well, yes. I used birth control for 5 years and then I stopped taking them and then I got pregnant. This statement means nothing.

    (Half of the women unhappily surprised by pregnancy used contraception during the month in whcih they conceived.)

    Well, duh, MOST people unhappily surprised by a pregnancy were probably trying not to get pregnant somehow. Of course, contraception doesn’t work if you don’t use it all the time, the real question was whether it was used correctly every time that month, and how reliable the method is in normal use, but again that information is omitted. This statement means absolutely nothing either. Both statements are made merely to muddy the issue.

  • Minnie

    St. Augustine said, “Any woman who acts in such a way that she cannot give birth to as many children as she is capable of, makes herself guilty of that many murders.”

    Martin Luther wrote: “God created Adam lord of all living creatures, but Eve spoiled it all. Women should remain at home, sit still, keep house and bear children. And if a woman grows weary and, at last, dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing; she is there to do it.”

    Quotes from christian pro-forced-birth terrorist.

    “Anders Behring Breivik christian terrorist, pro-forced-birther.
    What he thinks about womens rights, women need to breed, breed, breed.

    1. Limit the distribution of birth-control pills (contraceptive pills): Discourage the use of and prevent liberal distribution of contraceptive pills or equivalent prevention methods. The goal should be to make it considerably more difficult to obtain. This alone should increase the fertility rate by 0,1 points but would degrade women’s rights.
    2. Reform sex education: Reform the current sex education in our school institutions. This may involve limiting it or at least delaying sex education to a later age and discourage casual sex. Sex should only be encouraged within the boundaries of marriage. This alone should increase the fertility rate by 0,1 points.
    3. Making abortion illegal: A re-introduction of the ban on abortion should result in an increased fertility rate of approximately 0,1-0,2 points but would strip women of basic rights.
    4. Women and education: Discourage women in general to strive for full time careers. This will involve certain sexist and discriminating policies but should increase the fertility rate by up to 0,1-0,2 points.
    Women should not be encouraged by society/media to take anything above a bachelor’s degree but should not be prevented from taking a master or PhD. Males on the other hand should obviously continue to be encouraged to take higher education – bachelor, master and PhD.”

    “Self-Described ‘Christian Counterpart To Osama Bin Laden’ Arrested In Plot To Bomb Abortion Clinic
    Justin Carl Moose describe “himself” as the Christian counterpart to Osama bin Laden. Moose wrote: “I have learned a lot from the muslim terrorists and have no problem using their tactics.”

  • Michael Busch

    Wikipedia informs me that the typical-use failure rate for the pill is indeed ~8%/year (, and that for condoms is ~15%/year. In comparison, the failure rates for Mirena, Lunelle, and Cyclofem are each ~0.2%/year, independent of the user’s actions. And of course, failure rates can be brought down further by stacking different methods of birth control. So Olasky is at the very least incredibly outdated in his understanding of birth control, and at most knowingly lying about it.

    But even if we only had the pill, how can he _possibly_ make the leap from “birth control has a failure rate of 8%/year” to “birth control leads to more abortions”? The failure rate for unprotected intercourse is ~85%/year. How can he think that 8 is greater than 85? Or does he think that the pill works like condoms, and the failure rate is proportional to use? In that case, his opinions on this subject are so uninformed as to be useless. And he apparently thinks that people have at least six times as much sex if they have easy access to contraceptives. The demographics say that that is nonsense.

    How can we tell if Olasky is simply uninformed or if he is also a liar?

    • Michael Busch

      Beg pardon – that should read “failure rate is proportional to how often people have sex”. It bothers me that such a large fraction of the population doesn’t understand this key difference in how condoms and hormonal birth control work.

  • Anat

    Somewhat relevant, I saw this today:
    Maternal deaths averted by contraceptive use: an analysis of 172 countries

    A press release summary states:
    Contraceptive use likely prevents more than 272,000 maternal deaths from childbirth each year, according to a new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Researchers further estimate that satisfying the global unmet need for contraception could reduce maternal deaths an additional 30 percent. Their findings were published July 10 by The Lancet as part of a series of articles on family planning.

    But of course women aren’t babies so their lives don’t count.

  • Carol

    According to a 2000 -2001 study by the Guttmacher Institute, about one-half of the women having abortions had been using contraception during the month they became pregnant. 16.9% of these women claimed their contraception failed despite proper use.

    In a book by two doctors the neurochemicals released during sexual intimacy set sexual behavior patterns It is a thought provoking read. Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children by Joe S. Mcilhaney Jr. M.D. and Freda Mckissic Bush M.D.