THE RELIGIOUS CONSULTATION
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Philadelphia Daily News (USA), September 23, 2004

Bush sells out people's health to religious zealots, corporate contributors

by Carol Towarnicky

As a liberal, I try to do unto others what many supporters of President Bush would never do unto me: I respect their right to hold religious beliefs different from mine.

Pray and Let Pray _ that's my motto. Or Pray and Let Not Pray.

But even liberals shouldn't tolerate the Bush administration's attempts to enshrine religious beliefs in government agencies, especially those that deal in science and health.

To a degree unprecedented in American history, the Bush administration has attempted to "cook" scientific studies to match its religious agenda against abortion and contraception. It also bows down to the doctrine of corporate greed, suppressing or distorting scientific evidence to match the business interests of its pollution-prone corporate sponsors like big agriculture and the mining and oil industries.

Compiled in two reports by the Union of Concerned Scientists, these "W.hoppers" serve to undercut the basic protections that we expect government to provide by inspecting our food, measuring the pollution in our air and water, and assuring the quality of our drugs. Some examples:

The Centers for Disease Control has removed from its Web site a link to a list of programs scientifically proven to reduce teen sexual activity. All were comprehensive sex education programs, which combine the teaching of abstinence with information on contraception. That just wouldn't do for an administration that has sunk millions into abstinence-only programs.

By contrast, there is no scientific evidence that abstinence-only programs do any more than increase the budgets of the faith-based organizations that run them. So the CDC simply did away with the requirement that such taxpayer-funded programs be proven to reduce teen sexual activity.

The CDC and the U.S. Agency for International Development hid the scientific fact that condoms are effective in preventing HIV/AIDS. The National Cancer Institute misrepresented the scientific consensus that abortions do not cause breast cancer. In refusing to allow the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ignored its long-standing approval process for drugs and overruled the recommendations of the FDA staff and two advisory panels.

After pressure from pork producers, a U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist who had found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the air near hog confinements in Iowa and Missouri was prevented from presenting his findings.

The Environmental Protection Agency delayed for nine months the release of a report showing that 8 percent of women ages 16-49 have elevated mercury levels in their blood that could lead to reduced IQs in their children. The mining industry is a major source of mercury.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rejected the reappointment of leading authorities on the subject of lead poisoning to an advisory committee that was supposed to re-examine federal standards for lead and health risks it poses for children. The committee then was stacked with scientists friendly to industry.

After intervention from the White House, the EPA removed any mention of global warming or climate change from a supposedly comprehensive report on air pollution.

Fact-based reports from scientists at the U.S. Department of the Interior routinely have been ignored or misstated to support the administration's agenda on issues like development, drilling in Alaska, and protecting endangered species.

And the most outrageous: Even though it had evidence to the contrary, the EPA told rescue personnel and residents that the air around Ground Zero in New York was safe soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Apparently, reopening Wall Street was more important than the health of American heroes.

No wonder that 4,000 scientists have condemned the Bush administration's misuse of scientific information and 48 Nobel prize winners support John Kerry for president.

Politicizing science may attract a few more votes from the political base and a few more (millions of) dollars in campaign contributions _ but at a grave cost. Messing around with the scientific underpinnings of government agencies threatens our lives and health.

Where I pray, that's immoral.


ABOUT THE WRITER

Carol Towarnicky is chief editorial writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. Except for brief intervals on maternity leave and on strike, Towarnicky, 55, has spent the last 30 years at the Daily News. She has been chief editorial writer of the Daily News since 1992, writing editorials on a wide variety of issues, including reproductive and civil rights, poverty and welfare, and local and national politics.

With Sandra Shea, Towarnicky co-wrote editorials that were a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2002. She was the winner of the 1993 Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship for Editorial Writers.

She has won national awards for editorial writing from the National Women's Political Caucus and Planned Parenthood of America and her fiction writing has been recognized with grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Leeway Foundation.

Readers may write to her at the Daily News, 400 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pa. 19130, or via e-mail at towarnc@phillynews.com.

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