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Complaint by
right-wing lawmaker leads to changes in STD conference panel

Complaint by
right-wing lawmaker leads to changes in STD conference panel

Conservative congressman reshapes STD panel to include abstinence supporters.

Health advocates say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed right-wing congressman Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican, to unfairly influence the makeup of a sexually transmitted disease panel to include two abstinence supporters, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Souder reportedly questioned the balance of the panel, which was set up to discuss the shortcomings of abstinence-only education programs for young people and met Tuesday in at the National STD Prevention Conference in Jacksonville, Fla.

Souder's complaints, which labeled the discussion as "controversial" and "anti-abstinence," led to the CDC removing from the panel a Penn State University student who planned to talk about how abstinence programs did not lower STD rates. The CDC replaced that speaker with two abstinence supporters, Patricia Sulak of the Worth the Wait Program and California physician Eric Walsh. Neither of the new panelists went through the peer-review process required of other panel members. Sulak and Walsh also attended the panel meeting with financial support by the Department of Health and Human Services, while other panel members told the Inquirer they had been required to pay their own way to the event.

Souder's complaint also lead to a change in the title of the panel. Conference organizers initially dubbed the panel "Are Abstinence-Only Until Marriage Programs a Threat to Public Health?" The panel was renamed "Public Health Strategies of Abstinence Programs for Youth."

Conference organizers say this is the first time a single lawmaker has been able to interfere so easily with the content of a federally backed scientific conference. "At the CDC they're beside themselves," Jonathan Zenilman, president of the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association, told the Inquirer. "These people aren't scientists; they haven't written anything. The only reason they're here is because of political pressure from the Administration."

Researchers have previously complained about Republican interference in scientific meetings. Last year, officials with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stripped the inclusion of the words "gay," "lesbian," and "bisexual" from a program for a conference on suicide prevention. That program also was instructed to add a session on faith-based suicide prevention, conference organizers say.

John Douglas, director of the CDC's STD program, declined repeated interview requests from the Inquirer. (The Advocate)

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