Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Centers for Disease Control for Abstinence Only!

This is a public service message. The Centers for Disease Control are proposing new rules for the control of programs that do HIV education. You can read the proposed rule changes here. Be forewarned, they are heavily covered in governmentalese language.

A translation of the new proposals has been made by Doug Ireland:

Lethal new regulations from President Bush's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, quietly issued with no fanfare last week, complete the right-wing Republicans' goal of gutting HIV-prevention education in the United States. In place of effective, disease-preventing safe-sex education, little will soon remain except failed programs that denounce condom use, while teaching abstinence as the only way to prevent the spread of AIDS. And those abstinence-only programs, researchers say, actually increase the risk of contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Published on June 16 in the Federal Register, the censorious new CDC guidelines will be mandatory for any organization that does HIV-prevention work and also receives federal funds -- whether or not any federal money is directly spent on their programs designed to fight the spread of the epidemic. (The CDC is the principal federal funder of prevention education about HIV and AIDS, and its head a Bush appointee). It's all couched in arcane bureaucratese, but this is the Bush administration's Big Stick - do exactly as we say, or lose your federal funding. And nearly all of the some 3,800 AIDS service organizations (ASOs) that do the bulk of HIV-prevention education receive at least part of their budget from federal dollars. Without that money, they'd have to slash programs or even close their doors.

These new regs require the censoring of any "content" – including "pamphlets, brochures, fliers, curricula," "audiovisual materials" and "pictorials (for example, posters and similar educational materials using photographs, slides, drawings or paintings)," as well as "advertising" and Web-based info. They require all such "content" to eliminate anything even vaguely "sexually suggestive" or "obscene"—like teaching how to use a condom correctly by putting it on a dildo, or even a cucumber. And they demand that all such materials include information on the "lack of effectiveness of condom use" in preventing the spread of HIV and other STDs -- in other words, the Bush administration wants AIDS fighters to tell people: Condoms don't work. This demented exigency flies in the face of every competent medical body's judgment that, in the absence of an HIV-preventing vaccine, the condom is the single most effective tool available to protect someone from getting or spreading the AIDS virus.

Moreover, the CDC will now take the decisions on which AIDS-fighting educational materials actually work away from those on the frontlines of the combat against the epidemic, and hand them over to political appointees.

This is done by requiring that Policy Review Panels, which each group engaged in HIV prevention must have, can no longer be appointed by that group but must instead be named by state and local health departments. And those panels must then take a vote on every single flier or brochure or other "content" before it is issued.

This means that, under the new regs, political appointees will have a veto and be able to ban anything in those educational materials they deem "obscene" or lacking in anti-condom propaganda. With Republicans controlling a majority of statehouses, and having handed over control of the health departments to folks deemed acceptable to the Christian right and cultural conservatives in many Southern and Midwestern states -- and the rest of public-health departments notoriously subservient to political pressure from the state and local legislatures that control their appropriations --anti-condom junk science that plays politics with people's lives will rule the day.

Under the new regs, it will be impossible even to track the spread of unsafe sexual practices -- because the CDC's politically inspired censorship includes "questionnaires and survey materials" and thus would forbid asking people if they engage in specific sexual acts without protection against HIV. For that too would be "obscene." (Questions about gay kids have already disappeared from the CDC's national Youth Risk Survey after Christian-right pressure).

I have not vetted the correctness of this translation, but it seems correct based on a quick perusal of the original article. The public is allowed to comment on the new proposal until August 16. If you would like to do so, go here.