Americans’ lives and health at risk
President Bush’s threat to veto a bill that would fund promising medical research demonstrates the dangers to Americans’ lives and health posed by the Religious Right’s influence on Bush administration policymaking, said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas and People For the American Way Founder Norman Lear.
“For this administration and its right-wing backers, politics trumps science, and ideology trumps reality,” said Neas. “Doctors and scientists agree that embryonic stem cell research holds great promise, and it would be carried out within clear ethical guidelines under this legislation. But that’s not good enough for the extremists who have the President’s ear.”
“This debate should remind Americans how wise our nation’s founders were to separate government power and religious dogma,” said Lear. “Unfortunately, a great public good may be sacrificed to please this administration’s most ardent supporters on the Religious Right.”
The U.S. Senate is debating legislation that passed the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support in May 2005. H.R. 810 would open up federal funding into new avenues of research using embryonic stem cells to find treatments or cures for many debilitating diseases. The legislation also enjoys broad bipartisan support in the Senate, including Majority Leader Bill Frist and Sens. Orrin Hatch and John McCain. The bill states that only embryos that would otherwise be discarded by in vitro fertilization clinics can be used for research.
Far-right pundits and Religious Right political leaders are unwilling to accept any compromise. National Review editorialized that the legislation promoted the “noxious idea” of “killing human embryos for research purposes.” Terence Jeffrey, writing in the right-wing Human Events, compared the research to Nazi experiments, arguing that it would force taxpayers to fund research that violates the Nuremberg Code: “Frist ought to consider why we condemned Nazi doctors and reconsider his position—again.”
Neas said the administration has repeatedly acted to undermine science and health policy in order to placate Religious Right leaders who demand that public policy in America reflect their religious belief that life begins at conception and that even emergency contraception (which taken within 24 hours of a rape can prevent a pregnancy from beginning by keeping a fertilized egg from “planting” itself in the uterine wall) for rape victims is the moral equivalent of murder.
“President Bush likes to talk about promoting a so-called ‘culture of life’” said Neas, “but he endorses and promotes policies that put the lives and health of American teenagers as well as adults at risk.”
Rep. Henry Waxman, as ranking minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform, tracks attacks on science in the Bush administration. A few years ago, his staff published “Politics and Science in the Bush Administration,” which reported administration manipulation of the scientific process and distorted or suppressed scientific findings. His most recent study, released yesterday, found that “87% of federally funded ‘pregnancy resource centers,’ commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers, provided false and misleading information about the physical and mental health effects of abortion and grossly exaggerated the medical risks of abortion. The report also found that virtually all of the funding is funneled through the federal abstinence-only-until-marriage program. Between 2001 and 2005, more than $30 million in federal dollars went to more than 50 crisis pregnancy centers.”
Neas noted that President Bush or his administration has:
- endorsed the Religious Right’s deceptive “teach the debate” approach to evolution, which is designed to push religious beliefs into public school science classrooms under the guise of a supposed scientific debate on evolution. “Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about,” the president told reporters at the White House. In reality, there is no real debate in the scientific community, but rather an ever-stronger consensus on the explanatory power of evolution as a theory underlying modern biological scientific understanding. Undermining the teaching of evolution, as Religious Right advocates are trying to do in states and school districts across the nation, will harm students and weaken science education in America.
- overridden the recommendations of Food & Drug Administration scientists and delayed making emergency contraception available without a prescription.
- boosted funding for “abstinence-only” sex education programs that deny students potentially health- and life-saving information about preventing pregnancy and protecting one’s self from sexually transmitted diseases, and in some cases provide them with false information. A 2004 report released by Rep. Waxman found that over 80 percent of the abstinence-only curricula contained false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health. According to a news story on the report, abstinence-only funding by the Bush administration has provided for teaching public-school students “that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person’s genitals ‘can result in pregnancy.’” An American Life League brochure, which had been posted on the Louisiana Governor’s Program on Abstinence web site, told students that, “The condom’s biggest flaw is that those using it to prevent the conception of another human being are offending God.”
- undermined condom distribution efforts abroad. A Bush administration directive requires that two-thirds of global AIDS-prevention money go to abstinence and fidelity—a move that has caused NGOs to cut back their comprehensive and life-saving programs that involve condom distribution and preventing mother-to-child transmission, according to a Government Accountability Office report.
“Thanks to the influence of the Religious Right, millions of American teenagers and people around the globe are denied potentially lifesaving information about sexuality and health,” said Neas. “And if President Bush follows through on his threat to veto a reasonable and rational stem cell research bill, he will undermine the hopes of millions of Americans who are desperate for new treatments for themselves or their loved ones.”
Neas noted that some Religious Right groups even complained about the development of a vaccine against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus that in its virulent forms can cause cervical cancer. Some Religious Right leaders complained that giving the vaccine to adolescent girls might encourage them to have premarital sex, even though the vaccine could save thousands of women’s lives each year. The Nation’s Katha Pollitt has called that position “Honor killing on the installment plan.” Reginald Finger, a member of the Center for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and a former medical adviser for Focus on the Family, said last year, “If people begin to market the vaccine or tout the vaccine that this makes adolescent sex safer, then that would undermine the abstinence-only message.” Some Religious Right groups have since embraced the availability of the vaccine, but they are still arguing against making it mandatory.
“Scientific progress has brought great advances in human health and well-being,” said Lear. “This is one of those times when common sense and compassion come together, and where bipartisanship should come easy.”