Washington Blade - December 27, 2002
Thirteen members of Congress, including its only open lesbian, blasted the
U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services for recent changes to its Web site
and a fact sheet about condoms, claiming the moves were to "distort and
suppress scientific information for ideological purposes."
The letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson - written by Rep. Henry D.
Waxman (D-Calif.) and signed by 12 other Democrats, including lesbian Rep.
Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) - charges that a government fact sheet that
promoted condom use as "highly effective" in preventing HIV and other STDs
has been watered down.
The lawmakers also took issue with revisions to a fact sheet produced by
the National Cancer Institute, which now omits a previously mentioned
study denying any link between abortions and breast cancer.
"We are extremely concerned about these alterations and deletions of
important scientific information," the letter addressed to Thompson reads.
"They appear to be part of an Orwellian trend at HHS."
The allegations are at least the second time this year that Waxman has
publicly criticized Thompson's department. In October, Waxman and some
Democratic colleagues charged that experts serving on advisory committees
were being replaced because their views do not match those of the
administration and that HHS is singling out AIDS groups with probing
The criticism surfaced amid continuing allegations that HHS, and its
Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, has taken a more
conservative approach to its work under President Bush.
The White House favors an abstinence-only message for the administration's
sex education efforts. Since the appointment of Dr. Julie Gerberding in
July to lead the CDC, some gays and AIDS activists have complained that
the federal health agency is clamping down on safe-sex programs that don't
stress abstinence outside of marriage, an option gays can't seek.
On the CDC's Web site, the condom fact sheet had said that refraining from
sex was the best way to prevent transmission of HIV, the virus that causes
AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases, according to the Associated
Press. The old version went on to say: "But for those who have sexual
intercourse, latex condoms are highly effective when used consistently and
The recently posted version focuses on HIV along with other sexually
transmitted diseases. In its introduction, the fact sheet now states that
condoms "can reduce the risk of STD transmission. However, no protective
method is 100 percent effective, and condom use cannot guarantee absolute
protection against any STD."
The fact sheet goes on to analyze the effectiveness of condoms versus a
variety of sexually transmitted diseases.
HHS did not respond to a request for comment by press time. But officials
with the CDC said the changes were not politically motivated.
CDC defends new info
"The charge that we were given was to create a fact sheet that was
objective and based on the best possible scientific evidence," said Dr.
David Fleming, deputy director of science at CDC. "And that's what the
fact sheet is."
Waxman said in a recent interview that information "based on sound
science" is being removed from federal health Web sites "when it conflicts
with the Bush administration's political agenda."
"This administration is letting ideology drive policy, and this will have
a serious negative impact on public health. By downplaying the importance
of condoms in preventing HIV, the administration is putting the gay
community and many others at risk," Waxman said.
Fleming said the changes provide broader information to the public and put
forth "a fair amount of new information on condoms."
Gay activists said the changes were part of an ongoing struggle with the
"This is just one more piece of a very unpleasant puzzle," said David
Smith, spokesperson for Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based
gay advocacy group. "The actions of HHS are very alarming to us. There is
an increasing body of evidence that this administration's response to AIDS
is woefully inadequate and is in fact in some ways dangerous."
HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce said in October it is Thompson's prerogative
to appoint advisory committees. By contrast, he said, Waxman and other
critics "would like all of us to follow their agenda, their liberal
agenda, on these issues."