Policy & Politics
Rep. Waxman Questions HHS for Allegedly Allowing Change in Content of CDC Conference Panel on STIs, Abstinence Education
May 11, 2006
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Tuesday in a letter to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt questioned whether the department allowed a member of Congress to influence a change in a panel participating in the 2006 National STD Prevention Conference in Jacksonville, Fla., the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Fallik, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/11). According to government officials, CDC changed the name of the abstinence panel, which was held on Tuesday, and the conference added two speakers to the panel and removed another. 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." 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 revised panel included 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. CDC did not require the new speakers to be reviewed by the meeting's organizers. CDC spokesperson Terry Butler said there was not enough time to put the new speakers through the peer-review process. Researchers organizing the panel, which was 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 change in the conference. 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. Souder said he was concerned because one of the speakers on the original panel was scheduled to speak about a report, produced by Waxman, that is "critical" of abstinence programs, while no one was scheduled to speak in favor of the programs (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 5/9).
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