The Bush Administration has received widespread criticism in the last few months for its series of attacks on science and health both in the United States and abroad. The New York Times published an editorial last week against the distortion of scientific evidence disproving any link between abortion and breast cancer on the National Cancer Institute’s website. Recent scientific studies have found no association between abortion and breast cancer; however, after complaints by anti-abortion members of Congress to Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, the Institute made its fact sheet more ambiguous, saying that some studies have shown an increased risk of breast cancer after an abortion, and some have not. The Times editorial stated that this “is such an egregious distortion of the evidence that one can only hope it is an interim statement… and not a final surrender.” The Times was backed up in its condemnation of this change by such newspapers as the San Francisco Chronicle and the Detroit Free Press.
The Bush Administration has also led a drive to discredit condoms. A revised fact sheet on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website downplays the benefits of condom use in an effort to further the Administration’s drive for abstinence-only education, or so some House Democrats contend. Times columnist Nicholas Kristof devoted a recent column to the issue of condoms, pointing out that despite studies showing that condom distribution is a cost-effective way to reduce the spread of AIDS, the US donates only 300 million condoms annually to poor nations that are hit the hardest by the disease. At a recent United Nations population conference, U.S. delegates argued that promoting condom use, even in HIV prevention programs, would encourage adolescent sexual behavior, despite scientific evidence to contrary, and they pushed to delete wording calling for “consistent condom use” as a way to prevent the spread of AIDS. Kristof wrote in the Times, “So what does this administration stand for? Inconsistent condom use?” Opinion pieces decrying Bush’s war against condoms also appeared in such newspapers as the San Antonio Express-News, the Austin Chronicle, and Salon.
Bush has also come under widespread criticism for his appointments to important science and health panels. The most well-known example is the appointment of Dr. W. David Hager, an anti-abortion rights doctor who mixes the practice of medicine with religion, to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs. The SF Chronicle reports that Bush aides are screening potential candidates for scientific and health committees to make sure that their political views are in line with the President’s. The Chronicle editorial states that “both citizens and federal agencies deserve to receive advice based on facts and science, rather than on a political agenda.” A Johns Hopkins professor and former chair of a CDC committee on environmental health, Thomas Burke, told the Washington Post that “It’s in the nation’s interest to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest on these committees. To see friends of the administration . . . clearly that’s what we’re seeing here. It’s wholesale change. The complexion has changed.”
The Times in their lead editorial on Sunday called all of Bush’s actions “part of an o