common sense and a couple of thousand years of history, not to
mention science, the U.S. government's population policy has been
reduced to this: The only acceptable sexual activity is between a
married couple for purposes of procreation and, if you disagree with
this, you aren't allowed to talk about it.
inanity from the Bush administration came July 20 in the form of a
report from the National Institutes of Health on the effectiveness
of condom use in preventing infection with HIV and other sexually
transmitted diseases. The NIH panel concluded that the published
literature about the spread of diseases was inadequate to
definitively answer the question of whether latex condoms are
effective in preventing pregnancies and the transmission of
When a leading
federal public health official challenged the institute's phlegmatic
tone, the far right quickly got in gear and demanded the official's
resignation. These events could be ignored except that the far right
often serves as the stalking horse for this administration's
Bush Would Oppose Family Planning
In fact, this
debate reflects an ominous pattern, beginning with the reinstatement
last January of the Global Gag Rule, that has been emerging from the
Bush administration. Another was the administration's foot-dragging
in approving several states' requests to provide low-income families
with contraceptive services. Although the administration announced
on Monday that it would approve New York's request, this was only
after intense lobbying pressure from Democrats and family planning
observers predicted that this administration would oppose abortion
rights, few predicted that they would dare oppose family planning.
Yet, that is what
appears to be happening.
Institutes of Health panel did find that there was strong evidence
for the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission and
in reducing the risk of gonorrhea transmission. The panel also
conceded that there was evidence of effectiveness for other diseases
transmitted by genital secretions, chlamydia, for example, but not
for genital ulcer diseases--genital herpes or syphilis. Concluding
that the inadequacy of scientific studies should not be interpreted
as proof of the inadequacy of the condom in reducing the risk of
transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, the panel called for
more research to settle the issue.
Demands Health Official Be Fired
Retired U.S. Rep.
Thomas Coburn, R-Okla., who had requested the study, interpreted
this to mean that "the federal government has spent hundreds of
millions of dollars to promote an unsubstantiated claim that
promiscuity can be safe."
The Centers for
Disease Control, another federal agency, was alarmed by the tone of
the institute's report and issued a separate statement repeating its
public health message that latex condoms, when used consistently and
correctly, are highly effective in preventing the transmission of
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as well as other sexually
brought out the ire of the right wing. Coburn, U.S. Rep. Dave
Weldon, R-Fla., and their ultra-conservative allies--the Physicians
Consortium, the Catholic Medical Association and the Christian
Medical Association--demanded the resignation of CDC Director
Jeffrey Koplan and accused the agency of promoting condom use and
thereby misleading the public into thinking that there was such a
thing as safe sex. U.S. Secretary of Health Tommy Thompson issued a
statement saying that he would not fire Koplan. For now.
administration professes that all it wants is parity between its
abstinence-only approach and family planning. We have always said
that abstinence is the best way to prevent disease and pregnancy.
However, in the
real world, as opposed to the political fantasy world of Washington,
D.C., this approach is not feasible for most of humanity. People are
sexually active with multiple partners, before, during and after
marriage. They are entitled to have accurate information on how best
to stay healthy when they are sexually active. The institute's
report, as interpreted by Congressman Coburn, and the Bush
administration's policies thus far fail to recognize this basic
right and human nature.
it could lead to a public health disaster if the public gets the
message that our government thinks that condoms don't work. Surely
this is a time to let scientists do their work. Let's keep the
politicians out of it.
with permission from Women's Enews, http://www.womensenews.org/.