Member of Congress Influenced Change in CDC Conference Panel on STIs, Abstinence Education, Organizers Say
Researchers organizing a panel at the 2006 National STD Prevention Conference in Jacksonville, Fla., to discuss the efficacy of abstinence-until-marriage programs in reducing the rate of sexually transmitted infections said that CDC allowed Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Drug Policy, to influence the symposium, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. According to the Inquirer, Souder's office last week in an e-mail to HHS asked whether CDC was "clear about the controversial nature of [the conference] and its obvious antiabstinence objective" and asked for a shift in the focus of the conference (Fallik, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/6). According to government officials, the agency changed the name of the abstinence panel, which is being held on Tuesday, and the conference added two speakers to the panel and removed another. Souder was concerned because one of the speakers on the original panel was scheduled to speak about a report, produced by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) that is "critical" of abstinence programs, while no one was scheduled to speak in favor of the programs, the Washington Post reports (Stein, Washington Post, 5/9). The title of the panel was changed from "Are Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs a Threat to Public Health?" to "Public Health Strategies of Abstinence Programs for Youth," and CDC did not require the new speakers to be reviewed by the meeting's organizers, the Inquirer reports (Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/6). CDC spokesperson Terry Butler said there was not enough time to put the new speakers through the peer-review process (Washington Post, 5/9). The panel originally included John Santelli, a professor at Columbia University; William Smith, director of public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States; Bruce Trigg, who heads an STI program in New Mexico; and Maryjo Oster, a Pennsylvania State University student who had planned to discuss how abstinence programs were linked to increases in STI rates, the Inquirer reports. The panel currently includes Santelli; Patricia Sulak, an ob-gyn and director of the Worth the Wait program, which supports abstinence education; Trigg; and Eric Walsh of Loma Linda University (Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/6).
Butler said, "Upon further review of the composition of the panel, CDC did decide the symposium was not balanced and needed to be expanded to include a broader perspective on abstinence education." Souder spokesperson Martin Green said, "What was basically a propaganda panel has had its politicized nature removed and appears now to be a more accurate reflection of scientific opinion" (Washington Post, 5/9). Jonathan Zenilman, president of the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association and conference organizer, said, "The only reason [the new speakers are] here is because of political pressure from the [Bush] administration" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/6).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.