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Feminist Majority Foundation Chat Series of 2003

BETH JORDAN, FMF Medical Director
Thurs. March 13, 3-4pm EST

On "Religion vs. Science" under the Bush Administration - pulling facts about condom use off the CDC website, pushing the NIH to imly a disproven link between breast-cancer and abortion - the Bush Administration is pushing science to the sidelines.

Beth Jordan M.D., FMF's Medical Director, is an internist and Women’s Health Specialist with extensive experience providing care to women with breast cancer, ovarian cancer, unwanted pregnancy, endometriosis, and uterine fibroid tumors amongst a myriad of other conditions that could benefit from additional research on mifepristone.

Moderator: Welcome Dr. Beth Jordan, Feminist Majority Foundation Medical Director. We're happy you could take this time to answer some questions today pertaining to science vs. ideology under the Bush administration. Thank you for joining us!

Beth Jordan: Hi Everyone, I'm Beth Jordan, MD, the medical director of the Feminist Majority Foundation and I'm glad you're joining us. War with Iraq looms large on the horizon at this moment in history, but today, we're going to focus on a different kind of war. A politically motivated propaganda war pitting theocracy against science. A political war that pits the interests of a small constituency of religious fundamentalists against the scientific community at large and against the constitutional rights of US women. A political and economic war that pits the interests of big business against the safety of US children, workers and our environment. A war that promises to render expert scientific panels and institutions impotent in representing facts relating to sexuality and abortion. A war that threatens to promote the HIV/AIDs epidemic all the while denying that it is doing just that. While the "Showdown with Iraq" is covered 24-7 in the media, these other numerous political battles are being waged quietly, off the radar screen. Thankfully, several articles have been written about this attempt to muffle science, the engage in Medical McCarthyism if you will. I encourage participants to go on to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals website, www.AHRP.org, and read their wonderfully written article " Preserving Core Values in Science". Sign the petition while you're there. Additionally, there's a very good article in the March/April issue of Seed Magazine (Laurie Garrett's "Science vs. Ideology.") Go to the New York Times online and read the March 13, 2003 article "Delinking Abortion and Breast Cancer." Read the July 2002 issue of, The Lancet, the British medical journal for their comments on how the Bush Administration's stance on abstinence only sex-ed programs flies in the face of sound public health policy. So many issues to discuss. Let's begin...

rahman: how can i have access to some latest artcles on feminism?

Beth Jordan, MD: A great question- I've two ideas. Sign up for feminist news stories at
feminist.org (it's free) and subscribe to Ms. magazine at www.Ms.com- With
both, you'll be receiving news pieces and articles about national and
international feminist issues. They're both great resources and will link
you to other valuable resources. Enjoy!

Robert J Roose: Good afternoon, Dr. Jordan -- it's truly a pleasure to participate. I find this a particularly compelling issue. And as a future physician myself, I find the PBA bill newly passed in the Senate a compelling ideological statement. The American Medical Association has outlined explicitly in their policies that "the term partial-birth abortion is not a medical term." Wherein does this debate truly lie then?

Beth Jordan: Hi Robert, Always a pleasure to speak to a member of the medical community. This issue comes out of a political mandate to outlaw abortion. Anti-abortion activists, which includes numerous members of Congress, are engaged in a dangerous game of double-talk. As a refresher lets remember that more than 90% of all abortions take place in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy. The arguments of the PBA advocates have no logic and their intentions are to be misleading, inflammatory, and to not inform the public of what is truly at stake. There is no medical term called partial-birth abortion. The safest and most commonly used method for second-trimester abortion involves dialation of the cervix and extraction of the uterine contents (D&E). This method cuts down on bleeding. Alternative methods can cause more bleeding and present more risks for the woman. So the debate lies in linking a commonly used medical procedure (D&E)with exceedingly rare abortions that take place late in pregnancy. You can't criminalize a procedure that is rarely used to cause a late stage abortion and not expect that it won't be criminalized in earlier abortions. So Congress and non-medical experts are trying to legislate against a procedure that the medical community endorses as being safe for women.

Andrea Briggs: How can the Bush administration possibly justify taking condom facts off the website of the CDC? Surely the science community especially the CDC is enraged since condoms are not used solely for contraception but are also the only real protection against STDs? Won't this lack of education for young adults and others about condom use seriously endanger lives and public health?

Beth Jordan, MD: The Bush Administration seems to be yielding to its small fundamentalist constituency in these matters. Remember, elections are very, very close and there's given the way the country votes, appealing to a small group of voters can sway an election one way or the other. This administration has pandered to its fundamentalist constituency by appointing the anti-mifepristone, anti-choice, anti- contraception WD Hager to the FDA's Advisory Committee on Reproductive Health Drugs, pressuring the CDC to change its science-based policy of condom promotion (really, it's the only thing we truly have at this point for the prevention of HIV transmission in sexually active people- condoms WORK) and pressuring the National Institutes of Health to act as if there was any lack of clarity about the link between abortion and breast cancer (there IS NOT.) The Bush Administration seems to feel justified in putting millions of lives at risk because of their belief that sex outside of marriage is just wrong. But the facts show that (surprise!), people do indeed engage in sexual activity outside marriage. Indeed, they even have extra-marital relations with different partners while married. That said, the Bush administration seems to feel that if you alter the info, you alter people's behavior. If you JUST SAY NO to sex, people won't have it. Really, we know that's not the case. It's more relevant to discuss abstinence along with birth control to give people all options. Being real saves lives. Condoms save lives.

Phyllis Salloway: Your question here. How can we get our congressmen to impeach Bush? He's making women into chattel, the property of rapists. No wonder there are so many unwanted children in the world. How is that improving the mental health of our nation. Angry parents are forced to bring into the world unwanted babies. Talk with the fighter, Mike Tyson, and he'll tell you horrific stories of what it is like to be unloved by your parents. I bet a lot of people would tune in to hear Mike Tyson's story.

Beth Jordan, MD: I want to refer you to a story that came out this week on how abortion is linked to DECREASING the crime rate. This is based on the premise that every child should be a loved and wanted child. Families, communities and nations suffer when that's not so. Here's the link:
http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?DR_ID=16533

Crystal: I have recently seen some great news that mifepristone is good for depression in women in addition to being the morning after pill. You mention that there are several other reasons it could be used if it were researched. Is research funding being held up because of the stigma attached? Are the opponents of this pill only thinking that it is typically used to give a woman a medical abortion and refusing to see the other "relief" it provides? Is there any information on a website about this new research to keep myself informed as well as inform the random person that asks?

Beth Jordan: Mifepristone respresents a potential breakthrough in women's health. Why? Because of its unique mechanism of action. At lower doses, it blocks the progesterone receptor, and many illnesses are progesterone dependent. 60% of all breast cancers are Progesterone Receptor positive, for example. Current hormone therapy focuses on blocking the estrogen receptor. In February's Journal of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, there was an article on using mifepristone as a treatment for uterine fibroids, the number one reason for hysterectomies in the US. Compared to standard treatment, mifepristone has few minimal side effects and is about 1/7th the price of current treatments. AS you mentioned, researchers at Stanford have used mifepristone as a treatment for acute psychotic depression, the type of depression Andrea Yates had. Current therapy relies on electric shock treatments and anti-psychotic drugs coupled with anti-depressant medications. Both treatments cn take weeks to months to be effective, unlike mifepristone, which works quickly, effectively and safely with 7 days. Scientists at MD Anderson are using it to treat uterine cancer. As you can see, it has the potential to treat a wide number of conditions disproportionately affecting women. Mifepristone is an incredibly hot political topic unfortunately, and it's time that it rise above anti-abortion politics to be fully researched as an effective therapy for so many conditions. In answer to your question, research money has been held up because of political concerns. The Bush Administration has appointed WD Hager to the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory panel- Hager, on behalf or the Christian Medical Association filed a petition to the FDA to get mifepristone approval revoked. The NIH has been reluctant in the past to work with mifepristone because of anti-abortion pressure. Opponents of mifepristone for medical abortion say that taking it off the market for medical abortion (please note that the FDA and the medical community believe it to be exceedingly safe and effective, as the studies have clearly shown) would indeed take it away from the scientists who'd like to continue research on various cancers, severe and debilitating psychiatric conditions and reproductive conditions like uterine fibroid tumors and endometriosis. You're welcome to contact me here at the FMF for further information regarding new research...

Heather: Dr. Jordan, Is it true that the Bush administration appointed someone to the FDA leadership who believes that prayer can cure women?

Beth Jordan: Well, fortunatly not exactly a "leadership" position in the sense that you may mean, but the Bush Administration appointed WD Hager to the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs advisory panel. He has written on how Jesus, scripture and prayer can cure a woman with post-partum psychosis and other ailments. Interestingly, he also shares an office with Dr. Guiler, the Kentucky doctor who's being sued by several women for branding his alma mater's initials (University of Kentucky) onto their uterii prior to hysterectomy.

Rebecca: Dr. Jordan, do you think that medical professionals and professional organizations are doing their part to protect scientific and medical advancement from this type of politically/ideologically motivated infringement on progress (and access), or are they afraid of being seen as "too political" themselves if they speak out against it?

Beth Jordan: I think that numerous scientists and medical professionals have indeed spoken out about these issues. Certainly the AMA, ACOG, ARHP and more than 70 such organizations have signed onto AHRP's outstanding petition regarding the necessity to preserve core values in science. Unfortunatly, this kind of political activity by the Bush Administration is rather unprecedented in its scope and depth. It's also been done "under the radar screen." So I think that it caught us all unaware. And the actions have been reactive in nature after the nature of the political slanting problem became clear and a pattern had been established. I think that scientists who depend on governement money are scared, and have a reason to be scared. If you talk to scientists supported by NIH funds, you'll find that they're scared of losing their jobs if they relate the Medical McCarthyism that they're encountering. People with overt relilgious affilitations are being put on grant review committees. When the heads of the CDC and the NIH and NCI are being pressured to change sound scientific recommendations in the face of religious ideology, everyone's got to be aware that there's something very wrong. It's up to people and organizations to be aware of what's occurring and report on that, because the folks inside the government are pressured to be silenced.

madeline boyle: Why does our media never, never touch on the subject of "population control"? There is so much suffering among the poor throughout the world, especially third world countries and it will never get better unless women have choice. But still, I wonder why sociologests, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, etc. never get a forum to speak on what is so important, is crucial.

Beth Jordan, MD: A great question. Lowering population growth is an important subject, and I'm not sure why more stories aren't generated about this critical topic. Clearly, it's a complicated issue. Perhaps a lot of journalists want to stay away from the abortion issue, which is clearly linked to the population
growth issue. More explicitly, it's women having reproductive control over their lives which can increase a family's resources, allow for more children to attend school, allow for the town to provide more services to go to
school, allow for more precious healthcare dollars to be spent per person...and all of this works to end the cycle of poverty so many people are in. The education of girls has been shown to be one of the most
effective means of stabilizing/decreasing population growth. Some good resources are: Population Connection/ZPG, Population Action International and the Population Reference Bureau.

Marie: Dr. Jordan, I understand that W. David Hager has recently been appointed to the Reproductive Health Technologies Committe of the FDA. I also understand that he is a fundamentalist Christian who advocates reading scripture to cure PMS. First, what issues does the committe he was appointed to deal with? Second, has this complete trampling of the line between relegion and science been as obvious and fundamentalist as what is going on now?

Beth Jordan: When the researchers at the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs branch have an issue they need advice on (and this happens infrequently I'm told), they put the question to the Advisory Panel, who drafts a non-binding recommendation. This committee deals with issues largely related to contraceptives and medical abortion. So, it's odd that a physician who does not believe either in single women using contraceptives nor abortion would be asked to be on such a panel. Additionally, he helped bring about a petition to get mifepristone approval revoked by the FDA. The Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Panel did indeed play a role in greenlighting mifepristone development here in the US. Interestingly, members of the committee are expected to be recused from participating in discussions when they have an outside interest in the topic or a financial interest. The FDA has refused to say if it would recuse Hager from such discussion, but not to do so is completly counter to their laws and mandates. Hager has been on record saying that he would recuse himself from mifepristone-related discussions. Again, due to limited time and space, I refer you to the ARHP website so that you can read their piece on "Preserving Core Values in Science' and to the Seed magazine article on "Science v. Ideology" in the Bush Administration so that you can have a deeper sense of all of the areas (from children being safe from lead poisoning, to the environment, to women's reproductive freedom to the NIH's fact sheet on the clear lack of association between breast cancer and abortion) where the Bush Administration has been meddling with science in the name of theocracy.

rahman: How can I have access to some latest articles on feminism?

Beth Jordan: A great question- I've two ideas. Sign up for feminist news stories at feminist.org (it's free) and subscribe to Ms. magazine at www.Ms.com- With both, you'll be receiving news pieces and articles about national and international feminist issues. They're both great resources and will link you to other valuable resources. Enjoy!

Moderator: Thanks for participating!

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