The last elections may only manage to put a skidding brake and not a complete halt on the run-away train wreck that is the Bush administration. Despite the thumpin' at the polls, the Bushies are bent but not broken. Even in the lame duck years of this presidency, Bush and his cronies will seek to do as much harm as they can get away with. Democratic law makers need to be suspicious, vigilant and ever conscientious in containing the damage. Despite congressional oversight, Bush can do extensive harm with cynically ideological political appointments. Congress can't stop them all - some don't require congressional approval. But for the sake of America and common decency, every Bush nominee (political and judicial) who comes up for confirmation, must be looked at with a microscope and a fine toothed comb. If he can get away with it, Bush will place in position of power reactionary ideologues who will play havoc with the social, cultural and political fabric of this country. Here is an example of what I have in mind.
Demeaning to women
A physician known for peddling bad science gains power over health services for millions.
Everybody makes mistakes. Doctors, even excellent ones, are not exempt. But a physician who consistently promotes false data so as to influence patients' gravest personal decisions falls far outside the norm. This month, the Bush administration placed just such a doctor in a position of enormous power to affect the health of 5 million Americans. The choice is absurd and irresponsible.
President Bush appointed Massachusetts obstetrician-gynecologist Erik Keroack to direct family planning programs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Keroack certainly has experience in the field: He was medical director of A Woman's Concern, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers. The organization's Web site calls distribution of birth control "demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness."
To dissuade women from choosing birth control or abortion, the group relies on more than ideology. Under Keroack's direction, the centers burdened women with medical information that was twisted, debunked or brazenly fictitious. Among its erroneous claims, the group asserts that condoms "offer virtually no protection"against herpes or HIV. How many cases of sexually transmitted disease has that dangerous disinformation caused? In fact, as Slate magazine notes, the National Instititutes of Health report that condom users have an "85 percent decrease in risk of HIV transmission."
A Woman's Concern also preaches the egregious falsehood that teenagers who receive abortions "may face an eight times greater risk of contracting breast cancer by age 45." This dangerous propaganda has been debunked repeatedly by medical professionals, most recently by the National Cancer Institute.
Keroack personally takes responsibility for a bizarre, unsubstantiated theory meant to promote abstinence. Citing the body chemistry of a tiny rodent called a prairie vole, Keroack claims that humans who have multiple sex partners develop a neuropeptide deficiency that renders them unable to form long-lasting bonds. Scientists, including one Keroack cites as a reference, call the theory scientifically unsupported.
Keroack now distances himself from the tactics of A Woman's Concern. Perhaps, then, the public could view his past direction of the group's medical curriculum "mistaken." He has not, though, convincingly discarded his hostility to birth control. Given that Keroack's out-of-the-mainstream views are his most distinctive trait, it's fair to guess that the president chose Keroack to appeal to his base rather than to improve women's health.
Keroack's penchant for spreading bad science has won him the power to affect the health of millions of women. He will oversee 4,600 family planning clinics federally mandated to provide family planning counseling, birth control, breast exams and other health services. Bush could hardly have made a more cynical choice. For 5 million American women, Keroack's appointment is a grave medical mistake.