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Abortion leaders, Democrats attack White House health decisions

WASHINGTON (BP)–Abortion-rights leaders and some Democrats have criticized recent actions by the Bush administration in the health field.

Critics attacked President Bush’s appointment of pro-life doctors to a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services’ revisions of information on condom usage and a possible abortion-breast cancer connection.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America criticized the president’s selection of at least three pro-lifers to the FDA’s Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs as a “frontal assault on reproductive rights that will imperil women’s health.”

Bush’s “brand of ideological science will be a nightmare for women’s health,” PPFA President Gloria Feldt said in a written statement. “If allowed to continue unchecked, they will surely turn back the clock on all reproductive health technologies.”

Meanwhile, 14 Democrats in the House of Representatives wrote to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to protest changes in fact sheets on the use of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and on a potential link between abortion and breast cancer. The House members complained the revisions “distort and suppress scientific information for ideological purposes.”

The appointees Planned Parenthood’s Feldt derided were Susan Crockett, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio; David Hager, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine; and Joseph Stanford, an associate professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah.

Feldt and other abortion-rights leaders targeted Hager for most of their criticism, both before and after his appointment. Hager, a practicing obstetrician/gynecologist, has called for the FDA to re-examine its approval of RU 486, the abortion drug. The advisory committee on which he will serve reviews data on drugs used by ob/gyns and makes recommendations to the FDA.

He is a member of the Physicians Resource Council, an affiliate of the pro-family organization Focus on the Family, and has affirmed sexual abstinence outside marriage in congressional testimony. Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal have named Hager one of the country’s best doctors for women, according to Family News in Focus, a division of Focus on the Family.

Feldt also criticized Hager’s recommendation in a book on women’s health of Bible reading and prayer to deal with specific ailments.

Concerned Women for America called the attacks on Hager “religious bigotry.”

“Dr. Hager’s opinions reflect his experience and compassion for women,” CWA’s Wendy Wright said in a written release. “The FDA advisory panels are supposed to be places of open inquiry. One must carefully consider why Dr. Hager’s critics wish to silence him.”

Hager told Family News in Focus he was “determined to show [his critics] that those of us who are people of faith can also be excellent scientists and can objectively evaluate data.”

On the other two appointees she objected to, Feldt criticized Stanford for his refusal to prescribe contraceptives and Crockett for being a director of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California led the Democratic opposition to the revised fact sheet on condoms by the Centers for Disease Control and new language on an abortion-breast cancer link by the National Cancer Institute. Both CDC and NCI are part of HHS. In their letter, Waxman and the others said “political ideology — not ‘excellence and scientific integrity’ — have guided the development of the new fact sheets.”

Waxman and the others charged the new information on condoms had been edited to “deny the public important information about the role condoms can play in reducing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies.” They criticized the exclusion of previous information on how to use condoms and of the efficiency of various condoms. The changes reflect the Bush administration’s “preference for ‘abstinence-only’ programs,” they said.

HHS spokesman Campbell Gardett rejected the accusation that the administration was playing politics with condoms. “It was a scientific thing,” Gardett told CNSNews.com. “Congress asked us to look at what we knew about condom effectiveness. The National Institutes of Health came up with a report, and this was an opportunity to make that information accessible through the fact sheet.”

CDC spokeswoman Karen Hunter said the new fact sheet uses NIH research “that finds that although there is a lot of scientific evidence to show that condom use can prevent HIV, there isn’t that level of evidence for a lot of other sexually transmitted diseases. We’re just trying to present a balanced approach with the scientific evidence that’s available.”

The new CDC fact sheet says the “surest way to avoid transmission of [STDs] is to abstain from sexual intercourse or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected.” It also says “correct and consistent” use of the latex condom can decrease the risk of transmission but cannot assure “absolute protection” against an STD.

The NCI’s new information on a possible link between abortion and the development of breast cancer says the data from more than 30 published studies “have been inconsistent.” Some studies have shown “statistically significant evidence of an increased risk” for women who have had abortions; some have suggested a greater risk; and others have reported no increased risk, the fact sheet says.

Waxman and his colleagues said in their letter that the new information “is nothing more than the political creation of scientific uncertainty.” The previous fact sheet, which reported that recent studies showed no increase in risk for post-abortive women, “was based on a reasoned analysis of available studies,” the Democrats said.

The 1997 Danish study, however, on which the NCI’s previous statements were largely based was flawed, said abortion-breast cancer researcher Joel Brind. Even if the study “were entirely valid, it would still be outrageous to claim that one single study, on a population of women from another continent, could somehow prove that women from the U.S. and elsewhere were not put at increased breast cancer risk by choosing abortion. After all, 10 studies out of 11 on American women have shown increased risk, eight of them statistically significant on their own,” Brind wrote.

Brind is a professor of biology and endocrinology at Baruch College of the City University of New York.

The NCI plans to hold workshops on the subject early this year, CNSNews.com reported.