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Moving on Over-Transferring the OPP Blog to OPP Website June 12, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements.
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This WordPress blog is being transferred to the Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy website. Look for our blog on the OPP home page. Thanks for your attention and participation. We hope you continue to view and commment on the Center for Inquiry Offiice of Public Policy’s important work in Washington DC.

Toni Van Pelt on Pete Dominick’s Radio Show June 11, 2009

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Toni Van Pelt, Policy Director of CFI’s Office of Public Policy, appeared on Stand Up! with Pete Dominick on Tuesday 9 June. The show is featured on Sirius 110 and XM 130 satellite radio.
Toni talked about a news article that appeared earlier in the day in a Capitol Hill newspaper Politico . The article, entitled “Atheists Keep Faith with Obama,” included quotations from Toni and Nathan Bupp, director of communications for the Center for Inquiry. Referring to her group as “nonbelievers” and “secular humanists,” Toni emphasized the need to tread lightly on certain issues, in order to avoid a backlash. “Pragmatically, there are some really serious things that we need to focus our work on.”
Pete directed the conversation to CFI’s current work on the Hill and one of the most important issues of the day Charitiable Choice. Toni recounted the history of Charitable Choice and what it meant in the fight to tear down the wall separating church and state. CFI performed a detailed historical study of federal funding for faith-based programs, extending from the rise of “charitable choice” legislation during the Clinton administration through the explosion of taxpayer funding for religious programs under George W. Bush’s Faith Based and Community Initiative. Charitable Choice and Faith Based Initiatives are the most potent weapons being used in the battle today. For more information on this crucial issue please read the CFI position paper. Toni may be heard on the Pete Dominick show from time to time–a “semi-regular,” as Pete said on air. Stay tuned to an important voice for secular humanism.
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OPP at Endorsement of Sotomayor by Law Enforcement June 10, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements.
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Yesterday Toni Van Pelt, Policy Director, CFI Office of Public Policy, and Ruth Mitchell. OPP staff associate, attended a press conference in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, hosted by Vice President Joe Biden. Representatives of law enforcement from across the U.S. endorsed the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The press conference focused on the earliest part of Sotomayor’s career, when, fresh out of law school, she served as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan under legendary district attorney, Robert Morgenthau. Now 90 years old, Morgenthau was present at the press conference and enthusiastically endorsed his former assistant district attorney.

The speakers made their endorsements in front of a line of city police chiefs, including Cathy Lanier, Chief of the Metropolitan DC Police. Other speakers included Joseph I. Cassilly, president of the National District Attorneys Association, and John F.Timoney, Chief of Police in Miami, FL, and president of the Police Executive Research Forum. The audience consisted of representatives of police organizations and district attorneys from near and far.

In his remarks, Vice president Biden stressed Sotomayor’s experience as a district attorney, sharing the experiences of police and prosecutors in combating crime in New York neighborhoods. He appealed to the shared experience of everyone in the room as a reason to support her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Getting to know Sotomayor May 29, 2009

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We’re all trying to find out where President Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, stands on our favorite issues. We’re looking at her record on Church-state issues, on reproductive freedom, on LGBT concerns. But we shouldn’t be worried that her judicial opinions have been reversed more than is usual.
A Huffington Post blog by Sam Stein points out that her opinions haven’t been reversed more than is usual. And in two cases where the U.S. Supreme Court overruled her, her opinion was shared by Justice David Souter, the judge she will replace.
In an 11-year career as an appellate judge, Judge Sotomayor issued 380 opinions, of which five were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and three were reversed. That’s a lower rate of reversal than the Supreme Court usually hands down–75 percent of cases in 2008 were reversals.
So far it seems that Judge Sotomayor is pretty much in the mainstream of legal opinion. Stay tuned as we learn more.

Join the call for Sotomayor! May 26, 2009

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On Wednesday May 27 at 2:00 PM, there will be a national conference call on the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor. If you would like to help get her nominated, send a message to grassroots@civilrights.org, giving your full name, organization and state to get the toll-free number and passcode for the national conference call.
This national conference call is organized by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the Alliance for Justice (AfJ), and People for the American Way, coalition partners with CFI’s Office of Public Policy.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor is an outstandingly well qualified woman with an inspiring life story. The Center for Inquiry has hailed her nomination, with a note of caution because her views on church-state separation are unclear so far.
Send that email, join the call!

Tell NIH to Go Ahead with Stem Cell Research! May 18, 2009

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When President Obama issued his March 9 Executive Order lifting the Bush administration’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, he instructed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop guidelines for funding research using federal dollars. These guidelines have now been issued and NIH wants written comments on them by May 26. Please send your comments either by pasting in the accompanying letter or writing your own comments to http://nihoerextra.nih.gov/stem_cells/add.htm TODAY.
Please note: in order to submit comments, you have to paste them in. There is no other way to send comments
The Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy thinks the guidelines are scientifically sound and offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat diseases including Alzheimer’s diseases, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
But the guidelines don’t go far enough. They need to open up stem cell research to embrace all scientific approaches.
Let’s review what the guidelines permit:
 Federal funding will be granted for research using human embryonic stem cells that were derived from embryos created during in vitro fertilization and no longer needed for reproductive purposes;
 Research on adult stem cells will also continue, although there’s controversy about how promising this research is.
And here’s what the guidelines do not permit:
o Funding will be not available for the creation of human embryos—although creation of embryos is routine in private fertility clinics;
o It won’t be available for somatic cell nuclear transfer, a technique that could overcome rejection of implanted tissue.
The present NIH guidelines will expand the number of embryonic stem cell lines available for federal funding, but not as much as they could or should. Research on human embryonic stem cells, somatic cell nuclear transfer and adult stem cells needs to continue in parallel. All are part of a research effort that seeks to expand our knowledge of how cells function, what fails in the disease process, and how the first stages of human development occur. It is this combined knowledge that will ultimately generate safe and effective therapies. This should be funded with federal money in order to move the research as quickly as possible.
There’s a political angle to this, too: those who oppose stem cell research on ideological or religious grounds will try to overwhelm NIH with negative comments on the guidelines. They will raise preposterous images of clones and human-animal monsters in the minds of those who do not understand the scientific basis of stem cell research. We don’t want to lose any form of this research, so we must ensure that our approval of the NIH guidelines is heard loud and clear.
PLEASE SEND YOUR COMMENTS TODAY! Send the text below or write your own. But do it. The opportunity to see an end to Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases is too precious to lose.
Thank-you.
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Sample letter to paste in http://nihoerextra.nih.gov/stem_cells/add.htm

I am a member of the Center for Inquiry, a transnational organization devoted to science and reason as the basis of public policy. I have read the NIH guidelines for federal funding of stem cell research and urge the NIH to promote the widest range possible of research in this field because of its potential for improving health and curing diseases.
Your present guidelines are admirable in expanding the number of embryonic stem cell lines eligible for federal funding and maintaining research using adult stem cells. At a minimum, these guidelines should be maintained, especially because a large majority of the people in the U.S. report in polls that they support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
But I would like to see the guidelines expanded to allow federal funding of all avenues of stem cell research. Research on human embryonic stem cells, somatic cell nuclear transfer and adult stem cells needs to continue in parallel. All are part of a research effort that seeks to expand our knowledge of how cells function, what fails in the disease process, and how the first stages of human development occur. It is this combined knowledge that will ultimately generate safe and effective therapies. This should be funded with federal money in order to move the research as quickly as possible.
While approving the present guidelines as an excellent first step, I urge you to continue to monitor developments in the field and update these guidelines as the research progresses.
Thank you for your attention.

What’s at stake
Stem cell research of all kinds is the most promising field of biomedical research to treat diseases as varied as diabetes and heart disease, because stem cells—and embryonic stem cells in particular—may be induced to develop into any type of cell in the body. During the Bush administration, federal funding for this research was severely restricted on ideological grounds: scientists could only use stem cell lines already established and could not develop new ones.
On March 9 this year, President Obama issued Executive Order 13505 lifting the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. He asked the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop guidelines for federally funding research. These guidelines have now been issued and the NIH has asked for public comment until May 26.
Now this is a great opportunity for us, as members of the Center for Inquiry who want to see scientific research used to improve everyone’s health, to let the NIH know that we approve of stem cell research and that our tax dollars should support it.
BUT the request for public comment is also an opportunity for those who oppose stem cell research to tell the NIH they oppose it and do not want it federally funded. What’s at stake is the future of federally funded stem cell research.
The NIH guidelines have scrupulously avoided—too drastically, we think—any charge that embryos will be created only to be destroyed in research. They have also banned somatic cell nuclear transfer, a technique that might overcome rejection of implanted tissue; or any form of “cloning.” In other words, the guidelines are designed to permit federal funding of research that the majority of Americans would agree to.
We at CFI would like the guidelines to expand any and all avenues of research into stem cells because of their potential to cure diseases that now shorten or devastate life for so many people. We ask you to send your comments NOW telling NIH to go ahead, but to continue work on expanding the guidelines.
YES, OUR TAX DOLLARS SHOULD SUPPORT EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH!

Talking points
1. Stem cell research of all kinds should be federally funded under NIH guidelines.
2. Use of embryonic stem cells in research is not equivalent to abortion—the cells are no longer needed in reproduction and have been donated to research.
3. Stem cell research has immense potential to cure diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
4. Only federal funding under NIH supervision can assure that the research will go ahead with scientific objectivity.
5. Although these guidelines are scientifically sound and politically balanced, they should be revisited to expand their scope and make every possible avenue of research available.
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Civic Days at the OPP July 18-21! You all come! May 13, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Action Item, Annoucements, Press Release.
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Change has come to Washington DC—
and So Should You. Join Us!

The CFI Office of Public Policy invites you to participate in the second annual

Civic Days at the Capital, 18-21 July 2009

Come to Washington for four days of immersion in how Congress and the nation’s capital city work. You will hear about what’s on Congress’s agenda right now; about lobbying works; about The Credibility Project, an OPP-sponsored project exposing fake “scientists” who oppose global warming; visit the National Archives and other historical sites; go on a walking tour of Robert Green Ingersoll’s life in Washington; meet and hear from Congressional staffers; and lobby your own members of Congress. And you will also enjoy networking with other Friends of the Center from across the country.

The following is a tentative schedule of events. First lesson of Washington: Congress sets the agenda and we have to follow.

When: July 18, Saturday-July 21, Tuesday
Where: CFI Office of Public Policy, 621 Pennsylvania Ave. SE Washington DC 20003

July 18 Saturday
Informal welcome social at the OPP office from 12 noon to 9:00 PM.
Participants will be greeted by Toni Van Pelt, Director of Public Policy; Ruth Mitchell OPP staff associate; Melody Hensley, CFI/DC executive director; and members of the Civic Days Planning Committee.

July 19 Sunday
• What’s moving through the Congress. Briefing by Toni Van Pelt
• The Credibility Project, an analysis of the 650 global warming denier “experts.” Thomas O’Brien and Dr. Stuart Jordan, emeritus senior staff scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
• Private docent visit to the National Archives
• Ingersoll’s Life in DC, 1.5 mile, 2 hour walking tour. Steve Lowe, member of the Civic Days Planning Committee.Bring your favorite Ingersoll quotation to share.
• Private briefing with Friends of the Center congressional staff members.

July 20 Monday
• Briefing about current issues by a member of Congress (tba)
• Tour of Capitol Visitors Center
• Group Photo in front of Library of Congress
• Tour the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, on Capitol Hill, a museum devoted to the history of women’s emancipation
• Teaming up, role playing and coordinating our lobbying appointments.
• Dinner together at Union Station
• Evening walk round the monuments.

July 21 Tuesday
• Day in Congress, beginning with breakfast in a House Office Building cafeteria.
• Meetings with legislators, attendance at congressional briefings or hearings.
• Fly home tonight.

Accommodations
We have several suggestions for hotel and b-and-b accommodations which will be e-mailed to registered participants upon request. We’ll include maps for easy Metro, bus, and walking directions to the OPP office and our other destinations.

Registration
Please go to http://ga1.org/center_for_inquiry/events/civic_days.

The phone number for the CFI/OPP is 202-546-2330. Toni Van Pelt can be reached by email at tvanpelt@centerforinquiry.net.

We’re looking forwarding to introducing you to Washington and its ways!

“Largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American History” April 28, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary, Press Release.
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President Barack Obama yesterday gave a major speech on science to the National Academies of Science. He detailed what he calls “the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history,” consisting of funding basic research; developing technologies to produce new energy; reforming the U.S. health care system; and dramatically improving student achievement in math and science.

To read the whole speech, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-the-National-Academy-of-Sciences-Annual-Meeting/

Today is Equal Pay Day April 28, 2009

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Today, April 28, is 180 days after the end of 2008. But for the average woman to receive the same pay as the average man in 2008,  she would have to work until today.
Working women are still paid only 78 cents on average for every dollar earned by the average man. Better than last year, when the average was just over 77 cents, and a lot better than the 59 cents earned by the average woman in the 1963 photo below.
But not good for any woman, and especially not for African American women, who earn on average 66 cents for every male dollar, and not for Hispanic women, who don’t do any better than women as a whole did in 1963–they still make only 59 cents for every male dollar.   On average a woman takes home $9,575 less than a man every year, about $434,000 over a lifetime.
What can we do about it?  Across the nation, protests and demonstrations are using the dramatic idea of a year extended 180 days to make pay equal across genders to increase awareness of the problem. There are demonstrations at state capitols,  hearings, speeches, newspaper editorials.
Here in Washington DC, the House and Senate Joint Economic Committee (JEC) will hold a hearing entitled “Equal Pay for Equal Work? New Evidence on the Persistence of the Gender Pay Gap.” Chaired by Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, the hearing will focus on a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the gender pay gap in the federal government.
Supporters are also using Equal Pay Day to stimulate support in the Senate for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which will close gaps in equal pay legislation that have permitted employers to find excuses not to pay women equally.  The House passed the Act at the same time as the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but the Senate  has not yet passed the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Equal Pay Day is not a holiday or a celebration. In fact, if we are successful in gaining gender pay equity, there will never be another year when women have to work into the next year to receive equal pay.
The photo shows President John F. Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act in 1963, surrounded by those who worked tirelessly to secure its passage.

 

Equal Pay Act Signing

 
 
 
 
 

CFI/OPP Presents Awards to Members of Congress March 25, 2009

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The CFI Office of Public Policy last week presented awards to five members of the House of Representatives who worked to further our values in the 110th Congress, 2007-2008. They are:Representative Vernon Ehlers of Grand Rapids Michigan, who is a tireless worker for education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM); Representative Brian Baird of Vancouver, Washington, who is promoting science as vital international cooperation; Representative Diana DeGette of Denver Colorado, who tried over and over again in the 110th Congress to get federal funding for embryonic stem cell research; Representative Michael Honda of San Jose, California, who supports education in science and eloquently speaks for the rights of Muslim Americans; and Representative Henry Waxman of Los Angeles, who held committee hearings which exposed the attempt to muzzle climate scientists during the Bush years.
OPP director Toni Van Pelt presented each representative with a crystal tower engraved with the award and embellished with a globe that represents the transnational nature of the Center for Inquiry. She read a citation and a professional photographer took pictures that we will post as soon as we receive them. Citations detailing the achievements of each awardee are posted on the OPP website, http://www.centerforinquiry.net/opp.

Obama Urged to Focus on Poverty, Not Marriage March 3, 2009

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The Obama administration should focus on reducing family poverty in federal programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), not on promoting marriage and fatherhood, say researchers and advocates from universities and national organizations who have jointly published a position paper, Reduce Poverty Using Proven Methods: Eliminate Federal Funding of “Marriage Promotion” and Staff HHS with Appointees Who Value All Families, “http://”>/www.unmarried.org/images.

The authors report that from 2006 to 2010, TANF was permitted to award $750 million in grants to support projects promoting healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood. But they point out that no research supports the idea that marriage and fatherhood help alleviate poverty.
The focus on family structure endorsed by the Bush administration and its appointees is misplaced. Family structure has become less important in economic status since the 1980s. Although many factors that affect family structure–single parenting, divorce, cohabitation, LGBT parenting–have increased in the last fifty years, the welfare of children has actually improved.
The focus should be directly on poverty, say the authors. This means that administrators of programs like TANF should be committed to serving the needs of children in all family structures. Alleviating poverty should prioritize proven methods, such as increasing cash benefits; providing childcare and job skills training; improving educational opportunities; raising the federal minimum wage; empowering unions; attacking discrimination of all kinds; and creating decent jobs.
They call for an immediate stop to allocating federal funds for the promotion of marriage and fatherhood and for the removal of all references to and allocations for it in future legislation. No more federal money should be diverted from the real needs of children and of families, no matter how they are constituted.

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The House Gets It Right February 28, 2009

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Yesterday the House of Representatives passed the omnibus funding bill–not the budget that the President is sending to Congress today, but a bill appropriating money for federal agencies to keep operating until September 30, the end of fiscal year 2009. The bill now goes to the Senate and could be swiftly signed by the President if there are no amendments to debate.
The omnibus funding bill includes an increase in funds for family planning programs, such as Title X at home, and the United Nations Population Fund abroad. It fixes a problem with the price of birth control for family-planning clinics and student health centers, a problem that meant increased prices for contraception just when we didn’t need increases.
Perhaps most encouraging to CFI supporters of real sex education for adolescents, the omnibus spending bill cuts funds for so-called “abstinence-only sex education” by $14 million.
The bill increases spending on domestic programs by eight percent for the current fiscal year. For reproductive health, they got it right!

Obama gets it right! February 5, 2009

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Although President Obama intends to continue faith-based social service programs, his administration is quite clear about separating religion from public schools.

The so-called stimulus package intended to promote economic recovery passed by the Democrats in the House of Representatives last week bans money for school renovation from being spent on facilities that allow religious worship.Funds may not be used for the “modernization, renovation, or repair” of facilities that allow “sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity.”

The package passed by the House includes $20 billion for public school infrastructure renovations, of which $6 billion would go to institutions of higher education where the restrictions against divinity schools or departments would apply.

Conservatives groups are expressing outrage at what they see as curbs on religious liberty in higher learning, but constitutional law experts say conservatives don’t have much legal basis for complaint.After all, President Obama himself formerly taught constitutional law.

“In the year of our Lord” unnecessary relic, says CFI Task Force chair February 4, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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The Center for Inquiry is looking forward to how President Obama will strengthen the separation of church and state with his judicial appointments.  In the realm of keeping government neutral in matters of religion, it is important that all branches of government convey a message to nonbelievers and minority religions that they are no less a part of the community than are the majority Christians in our nation.

Thus, while the practice of issuing presidential proclamations designating the year of the proclamation as the “in the year of Our Lord” is not as grave a threat to government neutrality in matters of religion as would be the restoration of official prayers in public schools or exempting religious books from sales tax but imposing those taxes on secular books, it is still a practice that should now be retired.  The phrase “in the year of Our Lord” is the English translation of the Latin “anno domini.”  This is an unambiguous reference to Jesus.

Government is supposed to be neutral as between believer and nonbeliever and as between one religion and another religion.  This phrase shows a predisposition to belief over nonbelief and to Christianity over Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, and all the other minority religions.

Again, this is not the most pressing issue on which the future of secular government versus theocracy balances.  However it is an unnecessary relic of the Christian tradition that, ultimately, should not find expression in official government proclamations.

Edward Tabash

Chair, First Amendment Task Force, Center for Inquiry, Council for Secular Humanism.

Beware these bills! February 2, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements, Commentary.
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Bills by the hundred are introduced daily in Congress. Many of them concern trivial and local matters like recognition of local heroes and support for specific individuals, but some malicious bills are slipped in, hoping that no-one will notice.

Recent examples are the House and Senate bills S.270 and H.R. 605, mentioned in the following post “When Two Bills Look Alike.”  S.270 and H.R. 605 are two versions of a bill purporting to help pregnant women. Don’t be deceived–these bills are sponsored by Democrats for Life and supported  by the U.S.Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  They don’t provide funds for contraception and real sex education, but refer throughout to “unborn children,” an common anti-abortion tactic to promote an emotional response to pregnancy.  The bills are intended to coerce women into bearing children, whether they want to or not.

Last week another no-good, very bad bill was introduced in the Senate–S.346, sponsored by Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. This bill would extend the protection of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution to what are called “preborn persons.”  They mean fetuses, but deliberately don’t use the correct scientific term.  If  by any chance this bill were to become law, it would change the constitution so that a fetus would be a person and abortion would become murder.

We’ll keep you posted on the progress of these bills. At the moment they are all three in committee, a common graveyard for unpopular bills. Let’s hope they stay there.

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When two bills look alike February 2, 2009

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When you see two bills whose titles look almost the same, you think they must be the same bill. There’s a bill that’s just been introduced in the House of Representatives, H.R. 605, that says it is intended to “provide for programs that reduce the need for abortion, help women bear healthy children, and support new parents.” Looks good—why would anyone oppose such a bill?

But then you find that newspaper editorials and bloggers are praising another bill, which claims to “provide for programs that reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, help women bear healthy children, and support new parents.” That looks good too. Are they the same bill?

No, they are essentially different. It’s important for secular humanists to know that the first bill is sponsored by Democrats for Life, an anti-abortion group sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church. Its shorter title is “The Pregnant Women Support Act.”

The second bill, known for short as “The Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act,” is a significant attempt to seek middle ground between the anti-abortion and pro-choice forces. It is supported by a group called Third Way, which like the Center for Inquiry, brings reason to bear on divisive social problems.

The similar naming of the bills is tactically intended. You’re supposed to be confused and not recognize the differences between them. The first bill (which has a companion in the Senate, S.270) has just been introduced in the 111th Congress (the one that started January 3, 2009) and is now in committee. The other bill was introduced in 2007 during the 110th Congress by Representatives Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Tim Ryan of Ohio and will shortly be introduced again.

We’ll focus on the Ryan-DeLauro bill—remember it’s called “The Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act.” Its first and major emphasis is on the reduction of unintended pregnancies by education of vulnerable women, involvement of parents, and extending coverage of contraception through Medicaid and Title X of the Public Health Service Act. These provisions follow the logic of contraception: if you want to reduce the number of abortions, prevent pregnancy in the first place.

The Democrats for Life bill doesn’t do that. Although research shows that contraception reduces the probability of abortion by 85%, religious doctrine forces anti-abortion activists to oppose contraception as well as abortion. They also support abstinence-only sex education, which is now widely rejected as a failure.

The language of the Democrats for Life bill betrays its intent: it replaces scientific words such as fetus with “unborn child,” so that pregnant women will have an emotional reaction to their situation. It provides grants for the purchase of ultrasound equipment, widely used in Crisis Pregnancy Centers in coercive attempts to persuade women against abortion.

The Ryan-DeLauro bill is not all about preventing pregnancy or offering abortion services. It embraces a compromise (the Third Way, remember?) by also offering support to women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term, especially students in institutions of higher education. It increases support for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and the food stamp program, and funds free home visits for teenage and first-time mothers which includes contraceptive counseling.

Watch for the Ryan-DeLauro bill when it is introduced in Congress. Don’t be deceived by similarities in title with the other bill—the Ryan-DeLauro bill combines prevention and support in a positive package that affirms the value of women and children alike.

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Plea for End to the Hyde Amendment January 16, 2009

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On December 12, 2008, our OPP director, Toni Van Pelt, was among a group who met with Melody Barnes of the Obama transition team to urge an end to the Hyde Amendment, which restricts access to abortions for women enrolled in Medicaid. After the meeting, the 119 organizations, including the Center for Inquiry,  in the National Network of Abortion funds sent this letter to Ms.Barnes.

Fund abortion. Protect dignity and justice for all women.

January 8, 2009
Melody Barnes
Dear Director Barnes:
Thank you for taking the time to meet with members of the reproductive health and rights community on Friday, December 12, 2008. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the Obama-Biden Transition Project’s information-gathering process. We look forward to working with you and the new Administration to ensure real reproductive choices for all women.
We wish to underscore the importance of our request that President Obama strike language in his first budget that blocks women’s access to abortion care, including restrictions on abortion funding for Medicaid-eligible women and Native American women (the Hyde Amendment), disabled women covered under Medicare, federal employees and their dependents (FEHB), residents of the District of Columbia, Peace Corps volunteers, and women in federal prisons. Women in the military and military families are also negatively affected by abortion funding bans. Though attached to different funding streams, we consider these restrictions to be a single issue requiring consistent and equal treatment by President Obama.
For more than thirty years, the Hyde Amendment and other funding restrictions have affected the poorest and most vulnerable of low-income Americans, with a disproportionate impact on women of color and immigrant women. The Hyde Amendment denies abortion access to the seven million women of reproductive age who are currently enrolled in Medicaid. These funding restrictions are the most detrimental of all attacks on safe, legal abortion care, and represent a clear violation of low-income women’s human rights.
In addition, abortion funding restrictions marginalize abortion care and disregard the fact that it is an integral part of the continuum of women’s reproductive health care.
By striking funding restrictions, President Obama can place abortion back in the context of health care, thereby setting a new tone and signaling to Congress his commitment to comprehensive women’s health care.
Further, this early commitment will bolster the efforts of our diverse and growing grassroots advocacy campaign as we continue educating the public and Members of Congress about the urgent need for a full repeal of these restrictions. There is precedent for a President who supports reproductive freedom to take this action, and we look forward to working with and supporting President Obama as he takes this step.
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Today, more than ever, low-income women in the United States must have access to the resources that allow them to determine the size and timing of their families. Many of these women are already balancing the demands of jobs, children, school, diminishing paychecks, and the disproportionate burden of an economic downturn. Funding restrictions are often insurmountable obstacles for women with limited resources. Removing them is the first step to true health care reform, to abolishing class- and race-based discrimination, and to placing control, dignity, and self-determination back in the hands of the women to whom it belongs.
The signatories of this letter are members of a diverse and growing coalition of organizations who have come together to fight restrictions on abortion funding in order to ensure true access to abortion for the most marginalized women in our society. The Hyde – 30 Years is Enough! Campaign is coordinated by the National Network of Abortion Funds and was formed to mark the 30th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment in October, 2006. Since that time, the seventy organizations and more than 100 abortion Funds of the Network have worked to educate the public about the impact of funding restrictions and build public support for their repeal. These organizing efforts are successfully laying the groundwork for public support for an end to these damaging and discriminatory restrictions.
We look forward to continuing this conversation with the new Administration and encourage you to contact us with any questions. In the meantime, we thank you again for your commitment to women’s health and well-being.
Sincerely,
National Network of Abortion Funds

Want to find what’s on the CFI/OPP blog? January 8, 2009

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If you are using Internet Explorer, in the righthand column of the front page click on Feeds–Full.  You will be able to select by date and title. The posts will be arranged on the left.

Please note: this doesn’t work if you are using Mozilla Firefox. Sorry.

New Feature January 6, 2009

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Check out our new page “Happening Today”.

Want to live for ever? January 5, 2009

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Try religion.

A HHS Healthbeat segment from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises “spiritual living.”  A researcher at Yeshiva University looked at eight years of data on 92,000 people in the Women’s Health Initiative database, supported by the National Institutes of Health (that’s the database, not the researcher).

The researcher said: “Those women who said they  attended religious services at least once per week had a 20 percent reduced risk of dying.”

If you want to know more (and who doesn’t want to reduce the risk of dying?), go to http://www.hhs.gov/news/healthbeat/2009/01/20090102a.html.

Toni Van Pelt on radio January 3, 2009

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The Office of Public Policy’s director, Toni Van Pelt, can be heard on three radio programs taped during her fall speaking tours of Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. They are:

http://www.peoplepowerhour.com/show_archive.asp
Friday, October 17, 2008   Toni Van Pelt and the “Dangers of Free-Thinking Women”

Join the People Power Hour Friday as Toni Van Pelt, Vice President of the Center for Inquiry, talks with the gang. Van Pelt was in Central Florida delivering a talk entitled “The Dangers of Free-Thinking Women” in Daytona Beach and UCF Orlando, a look at how women were viewed over the centuries and the role of women in socio-political arenas today.

Youngstown, Ohio,  WYSU radio (88.5 FM).  Sherry Linkon is the host of the program, called Lincoln Avenue.  On the main page of the site, look to the right and click on Toni Van Pelt.

Here’s a link to a third radio talk: http://women-matters.dennisandjane.org/index-12-02-08.html. Toni was a guest on the program Women Matters, broadcast by WSLR 96.5 LPFM in Sarasota Florida.

Praise for Obama’s Science Choices January 3, 2009

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The Office of Public Policy was delighted by President-Elect Obama’s choices for the highest level science positions in his administration. Here is the letter the Office of Public Policy, sent to the President-Elect.

Dear President-elect Obama:

The Center for Inquiry/Office of Public Policy, which was created to further the application of science and reasoned dialogue to science-based public policies, commends you on your excellent choices for high-level executive positions in science-based areas. Drs. Steven Chu, John P. Holdren, and Jane Lubchenco will form a powerful team to face the combined challenges of providing adequate energy for the nation and minimizing the clear threat of global warming to the world’s climate.

Dr. Steven Chu, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997, is dedicated to your stated policy of addressing the global warming problem. Dr Chu’s current position as Director of the Berkeley Lawrence National Laboratory, where he supervised eleven other Nobel laureates, has led to an aggressive program to both improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases. Dr. Chu is the ideal person to counter the questionable arguments of the carefully assembled group of global warming skeptics, a large number of whom are not climate scientists and many of whom exhibit little understanding of the problem.

In his efforts to provide the nation with a sensible program for providing relatively clean energy while reducing carbon dioxide emissions, Dr. Chu will be supported in the Obama administration by an excellent group of experienced professionals. You have selected Harvard physicist John Holdren for the position of presidential science advisor. As chairman of the Board of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, Holdren in 2007 oversaw the AAAS Board’s first statement on global warming, in which it is recommended that the nation “muster the political will for concerted action.” The science team includes marine biologist Jane Lubchenco to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Both Holdren and Lubchenco have encouraged scientists to play a more active role in science-related policy discussions. Lubchenco in particular founded the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program to teach scientists how to participate in public policy debates.

We would like to point out that addressing the combined energy-climate change issues will be further advanced by Representative Henry Waxman, designated to become the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. As current chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Waxman has already established his credentials as a strong supporter of action on global warming by taking to task the Bush administration appointees who tried to muzzle climate scientist James Hansen.

We look forward to active government under this administration, and stand ready to support the kind of strong science-based program we believe your chosen leadership will produce.

Sincerely,

Paul Kurtz, CFI’s Inspiring Leader December 2, 2008

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Many of you who read this blog know that it ‘s about the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and especially about the Office of Public Policy (OPP).  But you may not know about Paul Kurtz, the founder and leader of CFI.  Recently, Derek Araujo, executive director of CFI/New York City, introduced Dr. Kurtz and in the course of his introduction, gave a brief summary of his life and work.  We present it here with pride.

Paul Kurtz: An Introduction*

by Derek Araujo,

Executive Director, CfI/New York City

 

All of us in this room, and most particularly those who know him well, have grown to admire and respect Paul Kurtz — for his towering intellect, for his inspiring leadership, and for his love of all that is good in humanity. But while none of us needs reminding that we are in the presence of a truly remarkable man, some of us might benefit from being reminded of the astonishing number of ways in which he is remarkable.

Before taking his doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University, Paul served among the brave young men who helped liberate Europe from the bonds of Nazi fascism. Having participated in the Battle of the Bulge, he disproved conclusively and for all time the old canard that there are no nonbelievers in foxholes. Paul witnessed the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps after they were liberated, and saw firsthand the evils of Communism when he encountered Russian slave laborers who had been taken to Nazi Germany by force, but refused to return to the Soviet Union at the end of the war. And as he himself has told us, these experiences had a formative influence on his worldview.

Upon returning to the United States, he took his doctorate, as I said earlier, at Columbia University. He then embarked on a brilliant career in the academy that yielded appointments at some of the finest institutions of higher learning in the country, and scores of books and countless articles that have touched lives and inspired minds across the entire globe. But in the course of his brilliant career, let us not forget that he made the conscious and deliberate choice to do what would be unthinkable to most of his fellow philosophers and academic peers. Paul Kurtz made the courageous decision to join the extraordinary company of the likes of John Dewey and Bertrand Russell, by forsaking technical philosophy in favor of by giving his fellow men and women practical advice about how to live better lives, and how to build a better future for our common humanity.

From then on, his life has been a constant and stirring example of standing courageously against the tides of superstition, anti-science, and religious dogma. Many of us remember a time when that struggle seemed hopeless, and when voices of reason sounded like cries in the wilderness. We all have Paul Kurtz to thank for helping to turn that tide.

When widespread paranormalism, psychic frauds, and the hucksters of so-called alternative medicine threatened our intellectual well being and our health and safety, he established CSICOP, now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, to seek truth and proclaim it loudly over the din some voices of irrationalism. When the Religious Right threatened to demolish the wall of separation between church and state and to overwhelm our politics and our public discourse, Paul Kurtz established the Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry magazine, the only publication in broad circulation that dares to question the malicious influence of religious dogma on public policy and human affairs. When traditional, profit-driven book publishers refused to publish authors that criticized religion or spoke for reason, he founded his own publishing house, Prometheus Press, still the only major publishing house of its kind. And when everyone said that growing an international movement to promote Enlightenment values and humanist communities just couldn’t be done, Paul Kurtz spearheaded the Center for Inquiry movement, which now counts representatives on five continents and in dozens of cities and communities, and continues to flourish and grow every year.

In brief, Paul Kurtz is a man of extraordinary talent and singular vision. We count ourselves lucky to know him, and hope for our sake that we will have the benefit of his wisdom, his courage, and his guidance for many years to come. Paul Kurtz, thank you.


* Delivered at the 10th Anniversary of CFI Community of Long Island on November 21, 2008

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Paul Kurtz on Morality Without Religion December 2, 2008

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Guest Voices

–>

Belief in God Essential for Moral Virtue?

A growing sector of world civilization is secular; that is, it emphasizes worldly rather than religious values. This is especially true of Europe, which is widely considered post-religious and post-Christian (with a small Islamic minority). Secularist winds are also blowing strong in Asia, notably in Japan and China. The United States has been an anomaly in this regard, for it has suffered a long dark night in which evangelical fundamentalism has overshadowed the public square, with its insistence that belief in God is essential for moral virtue. This is now changing and secularism is gaining ground.

The “new atheists” have attempted to balance the scales, for religious dissent until now has been largely muffled. They have appealed to science to criticize the unexamined claims of religion. This has shocked conservative religionists, who respond that atheists are “too negative.” Perhaps, but this overlooks the fact that there are varieties of unbelief and that secular humanists (the bete noire of fundamentalists during the Reagan years) define their outlook affirmatively in the light of positive ethical values, not by what they are against but what they are for.

Secular humanists are generally nonreligious, yet they are also good citizens, loving parents and decent people. They look to science, the secular arts and literature for their inspiration, not religion. They point out that religious belief is no guarantee of moral probity, that horrendous crimes have been committed in the name of God, and that religionists often disagree vehemently about concrete moral judgments (such as euthanasia, the rights of women, abortion, homosexuality, war and peace).

The ethics of secular humanism traces its roots back to the beginnings of Western civilization in Greece and Rome, through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the scientific and democratic revolutions of the modern world. Secular humanists today affirm that every person should be considered equal in dignity and value and that human freedom is precious. The civic virtues of democracy are essentially humanist, for they emphasize tolerance of the wide diversity of beliefs and lifestyles, and they are committed to defending human rights.

But, “how can you be ethical if you do not believe in God?” protests the believer. Perhaps such a person should enroll in an elementary course in ethics, where there is a rich philosophical literature dealing with this question. The good is usually defined as “happiness” though there are differences between the eudemonistic, emphasizing enriched self-development, and the hedonistic, particularly American, brand of intemperate consumption. Perhaps a harmonious integration of the two theories can be achieved. I would call it rational exuberance. Philosophers have emphasized the importance of self-restraint, temperance, rational prudence, a life in which satisfaction, excellence, and the creative fulfillment of a person’s talents is achieved. It does not mean that “anything goes.” Humanist ethics focuses on the good life here and now.

Secularists recognize the centrality of self-interest. Every individual needs to be concerned with his or her own health, well-being, and career. But self-interest can be enlightened. This involves recognition that we have responsibilities to others. There are principles of right and wrong that we should live by. No doubt there are differences about many moral issues. Often there may be difficulties in achieving a consensus. Negotiation and compromise are essential in a pluralistic society.

However, there is now substantial evidence drawn from evolutionary biology that humans possess a moral sense (see Marc Hauser, Steven Pinker, and David Sloan Wilson). Morality has its roots in group survival; the moral practices that evolved enabled tribes or clans to survive and function. This means that human beings are potentially moral. Whether or not this moral sense develops depends on social and environmental conditions. Some individuals may never fully develop morally–they may be morally handicapped, even sociopaths. That is one reason why society needs to enact laws to protect itself.

There is also of course cultural relativity, but there are, I submit, also a set of common moral decencies that cut across cultures–such as being truthful, honest, keeping promises, being dependable and responsible, avoiding cruelty, etc., and these in time become widely recognized as binding. Herein lie the roots of empathy and caring for other human and sentient beings. Such behavior needs to be nourished in the young by means of moral education. In any case, human beings are capable of both self-interested and altruistic behavior in varying degrees.

Secular humanists wish to test ethical principles in the light of their consequences, and they advise the use of rational inquiry to frame moral judgments. They also appreciate the fact that some principles are so important that they should not be easily sacrificed to achieve one’s ends.

To say that a person is moral only if he or she obeys God’s commandments–out of fear or love or God or a desire for salvation–is hardly adequate. Ethical principles need to be internalized, rooted in reason and compassion. The ethics of secularism is autonomous, in the sense that it need not be derived from theological grounds. Secular humanists are interested in enhancing the good life both for the individual and society.

Today, a new imperative has emerged: an awareness that our ethical concerns should extend to all members of the global community. This points to a new planetary ethics transcending the ancient religious, ethnic, racial, and national enmities of the past. It is an ethic that recognizes our common interests and needs as part of an interdependent world.

Professor Paul Kurtz is the chairman and founder of the Center for Inquiry-Transnational, Editor-in-Chief of FREE INQUIRY magazine, and professor emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. For 40 years, Kurtz has remained the leading organizational and intellectual figure in the humanist and skeptical movement. His new book, Forbidden Fruit: The Ethics of Secularism is published by Prometheus Books.

On the Road Again! November 21, 2008

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Toni Van Pelt, government affairs director of CFI’s Office of Public Policy, will make another appearance in Florida in the New Year.  You have a chance to hear and talk to her on:

January 5, 2009, 6:00 to 8:00 PM at the Marks Street Senior Center, 99 East Marks Street, Orlando.  Toni will present her talk, “The Dangers of Freethinking Women” to Orlando Chapter #519 of Amnesty International. Contact Bill Voss at 407-841-3900 for further information.

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Working for Change November 19, 2008

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These are exciting times in Washington DC.  The word on everyone’s lips is “transition.” The Office of Public Policy at CFI is doing its bit by working with coalition partners to ensure that the values of secular humanism guide selection of policy and personnel.

We are part of a team headed by the Alliance for Justice to recommend nominations for federal judges to the incoming president. As of January 1, there will be 14 vacancies on appeals courts round the nation that will be filled by the new administration. We want to make sure that suitable judges are located, vetted and nominated.

We are members of the Coalition against Religious Discrimination (CARD) which is focused on the future of charitable choice and faith-based initiatives. While understanding that there is a place in the delivery of social services for faith-based organizations, we insist that they must not discriminate in their employment practices.

As a member in a coalition of women’s and health advocacy groups–more than 60 of them–we have signed on to  Advancing Reproductive Rights and Health in a New Administration , a comprehensive agenda to improve the nation’s health care.  We’ve already posted the Union of Concerned Scientists’ agenda (see below, “Scientists Spell Out Their Agenda for President-Elect.”)

It’s one thing to agree with an agenda, another to see it carried out. That will be our task after 20 January 2009.

Check out OPP’s positions on major issues November 17, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements.
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The Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy has published a series of in-depth papers on major policy issues. These include stem-cell research; bioengineering; same-sex marriage; sexuality education; creationism and intelligent design among other topics. If you would like to know the Center for Inquiry’s position on these issues and the supporting arguments for our position, please go to the Office of Public Policy website at http://centerforinquiry.net/OPP and click on Position Papers.

The papers are listed in alphabetical order. When you click on the link, you’ll get the full text of the paper.

Obama pledges openness in government November 10, 2008

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President-elect Obama plans to open up government to the sunshine that’s been missing for the past eight years. He’s going to use technology to allow access to records in all corners of the government.

In particular, he has pledged to protect scientific information from the political interference suffered during the Bush administration.

To achieve openness, the president-elect suggests appointing a Chief Technology Officer to “ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies, and services for the 21st century.”  Among other sunshine measures, he proposes creating online databases of information about lobbying, ethics, and campaign finance; online reporting of corporate tax breaks; and posting of non-emergency legislation for five days on the White House website so that the public can see it and comment.

Above all, the president-elect will nullify the Bush executive order stifling release of presidential records.

To follow up on plans for open government via technology, go to: http://www.change.gov/agenda/technology and http://www.change.gov/agenda/ethics.  For more on the integrity of science, go to www. ucsusa.org/scientific_integrity/solutions/big_picture_solutions.

Scientists Spell Out Their Agenda for President-Elect November 5, 2008

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The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), allies of the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy, proposes a three-point program for newly elected President Barack Obama. The organization urges the president-elect to make these issues a priority for his administration:

* building a clean-energy economy, by investing $150 billion in alternative energy sources over the next ten years; implementing strong emissions reductions; and getting the U.S. back at the head of international climate negotiations;

* freeing the world from the threat of nuclear weapons, by extending the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty before it expires next year; ending plans for a new generation of nuclear weapons for the missile defense system in Eastern Europe; and working with Congress to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;

* restoring scientific integrity in the U.S. government.

The Center for Inquiry has been especially involved in protecting and promoting scientific integrity, and we’ll continue to work with UCS and with Congressional committees. Check out on this blog “Science Board Advises Caution on BPA” and “Freedom to Speak in Government Agencies.”

For in-depth discussions of OPP’s position on scientific integrity, go to our website, http:/centerforinquiry.net/opp and click on “Position Papers.” You’ll find two papers on “Protecting Scientific Integrity” authored by Ronald Lindsay, Derek Araujo, and Daniel Horowitz.

As the UCS says in its message to members and supporters, it won’t be easy to implement a positive scientific agenda, but this is a moment of “enormous opportunity” that we can’t let pass without action.

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Science Board Advises Caution on BPA November 2, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements, Commentary.
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You thought that bisphenol A (BPA) was safe? Bisphenol A is the ingredient in the lining of baby bottles and drink containers that has been suspected of toxicity.  The government of Canada thinks it is toxic, and has banned its use in anything used by children.

But a U.S. government agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), released a draft report in August saying that BPA is safe, even for babies and children.  Turns out that the report was based on work done by the American Chemistry Council and the American Plastics Council, organizations who represent the manufacturers of BPA and similar chemicals.

Now a scientific subcommittee has released a report blasting the FDA’s process in evaluating BPA. While it says that small amounts of BPA may not be seriously harmful, it also calls for a greater margin of safety in the use of BPA.

Responding to the subcommittee report, the FDA agrees that more research is needed and it declares that it is already looking at the effects of small amounts of BPA.  But the FDA also advises parents to use glass or other bottles instead of polycarbonate plastic bottles to feed babies; not to heat baby formula in these plastic bottles; and consult with their pediatrician about switching to powdered formula.  The Acting Surgeon General adds that “the best source of nutrition for babies is the mother’s breast milk. ” He adds that infant formula is next best, but he doesn’t say what bottles to use.

The FDA is not off the hook on BPA–Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach has been asked by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation to explain the earlier endorsement of BPA  Stay tuned!

Freedom to speak in government agencies: the Union of Concerned Scientists Reports October 19, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements, Commentary, Press Release.
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Scientists who work for Federal government agencies should be able to tell us, the general public, about their research. But they haven’t always been able to do so freely during this administration. We all remember the case of James Hansen, the NASA climate change expert whose attempts to speak freely were heavily censored by political appointees.
Following up on their work to preserve scientific integrity, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) researched free access to the media for scientists in 15 government agencies. They published their report card recently and it looks like this–very mixed.

They looked at freedom to speak to the media along two dimensions: policy, which means a written published statement setting out the agency’s guidelines for communication with the media; and practice, which means what agency scientists experienced, as reported to UCS researchers through surveys and interviews.   Looked at along this dimensions, even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) isn’t completely satisfactory–it gets an “A” for policy, but practice needs improvement. The worst is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and two agencies get “Incompletes” in the policy department, although the National Science Foundation is “outstanding” in allowing its scientists free access to the media in practice.

In general, the UCS concludes, agencies that employ scientists need a change to a culture of openness.  The public needs to know what scientists find in their research and what it means for public policy.

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Flood of Comments on Proposed HHS Regulation October 19, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Uncategorized.
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The Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy is proud that our Friends are among more than 200,000 people who sent individual comments to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt urging him not to implement his proposed regulation permitting reproductive health personnel to refuse their services on ideological grounds.(See “CFI Formal Comments Submitted,” below).
In addition to the individual comments, comments were written by 150 members of Congress; nine governors of the largest states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Illinois; 16 states attorneys-general; and a large number of associations and organizations, among them the Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy. Particularly noteworthy were letters of comments from clergy members and religious groups, as well as a Clergy Advisory Board in Opposition to the Proposed Regulation.
What happens next? By law the Department of Health and Human Services is required to reply substantively to each of the comments and address the concerns raised. The sheer bulk of the responses, not to mention the sophisticated legal and medical arguments raised in lengthy comments from professional organizations, may make it impossible to issue a rule before the end of the Bush administration. If a rule is issued, it will probably be challenged in court.
Thanks, everyone who wrote comments. We all acted as good citizens should.
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U.S.Administration Withholds Contraception from African Countries October 7, 2008

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Women in six African countries–Ghana, Malawi,Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe–will be denied birth control because the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is demanding that their governments terminate a British program, Marie Stopes International, that supplies contraceptives.
USAID erroneously charges that Marie Stopes International cooperates with the Chinese government on “coercive abortion and involuntary sterlizations.” This charge has been repeated over the years against organizations supplying birth control to needy women in developing countries and is both baseless and damaging.
Women in poor African countries face unintended pregnancy (often beginning early in their adolescence), unsafe abortion, childbirth injuries, and sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS. Birth control can help with all these, as well as the gender inequities that exacerbate them. Restricting or removing access to contraception increases poverty, disease, and early death in these countries.
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CFI Formal Comments Submitted September 25, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements.
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Provider Conscience Regulation.

Comments by the Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy.

The proposed Provider Conscience Regulation purports to provide rules designed to help enforce three federal statutes, namely the Church Amendments (42 U.S.C. § 300a-7), Public Health Service (PHS) Act §245 (42 U.S.C. § 238n), and the Weldon Amendment (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-161, § 508(d), 121 Stat. 1844, 2209) (hereinafter “the statutes”). Collectively, in material part, the statutes provide that certain health care workers and entities cannot be discriminated against if they refuse to engage in, provide, pay for, or provide coverage of, certain activities or procedures, in particular abortion or sterilization.

The Center for Inquiry /Office of Public Policy strongly recommends that the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) not implement the proposed Provider Conscience Regulation as a final rule for the following reasons:

1. There is no evidence that the regulation is needed. The proposed regulation cites no factual support for its supposition that health care professionals are at risk of being subject to illegal discrimination or that persons are discouraged from entering the health care professions because of concern about discrimination;
2. The regulation’s rationale is based on a thorough misunderstanding of employment discrimination law as applied to workers outside the health care professions. The regulation provides far greater rights to health care workers than are enjoyed by workers in other professions, while improperly discounting the rights of patients;
3. The extension of the original statutes to require written assurances of non-discrimination goes beyond the original intent of the legislation, and unnecessarily burdens health care providers and institutions;
4. The proposed regulations will have a serious adverse impact on family well-being, contrary to the assertions on p. 29 of the proposed regulation;
5. The absence of a specific, scientifically supported definition of “abortion” and/or “sterilization” will cause confusion and could result in contraception, misunderstood by some as a form of abortion, being included as a service to which some health care workers will object.

Each of these points will be discussed in detail below.

1. No Factual Support for the Regulation

Federal regulations must be rational and based on careful consideration of all relevant factors. Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass’n v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29 (1983). An essential component of the agency’s requisite reasoned analysis is the development of an administrative record that provides clear support for the agency’s position that the proposed regulation is necessary. Id. In this regard, the proposed regulation is severely deficient.

HHS cites no evidence that any of the existing statutes are routinely violated or ignored. In fact, the proposed regulation fails to cite one instance of a confirmed violation of any of the statutes. The sole justification for the proposed regulation is the agency’s speculation that there “appears to be an attitude towards the health care professions that health care professionals and institutions should be required to provide or assist in the provision of medicine or procedures to which they object, or else risk being subjected to discrimination” (proposed regulation, p. 9). However, appearances are not facts. Appearances cannot legally provide a justification for federal regulation.

Significantly, the one reference that HHS cites to support its speculation about an appearance of discrimination is a report (specifically, an ethics committee opinion) of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) that HHS interprets as posing a potential conflict with the statutes. However, the ACOG has issued a statement denying that its policy presents any conflict with the statutes. In fact, the committee opinion is a reasoned discussion of the meaning of conscience in a professional context. See ACOG Committee Opinion. Number 385. November 2007, p.1. http://www.acog.org/from_home/publications/ethics/co385.pdf).
It proposes four criteria for determining the limits of conscientious refusal and makes seven recommendations that would ensure that a patient’s welfare is a provider’s primary concern, while advising providers on acceptable ways to refuse. Thus, the ACOG’s report provides absolutely no justification for the proposed regulation.

At a minimum, to justify the proposed regulation, HHS must provide details about actual cases of statutory violations and describe how its proposed regulations would eliminate or reduce such misconduct. In the absence of such a factual record, the proposed regulation is “arbitrary and capricious,” and, therefore, a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S. § 706. See Motor Vehicles Mfrs. Ass’n, 463 U.S. at 43 (agency action arbitrary and capricious if there is no rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.)

2. Inconsistency with Federal Employment Discrimination Law

The proposed regulation states that one of the principal reasons it is supposedly needed is that there is a perception that health care professionals lack the same “rights of conscience and self-determination” that extend to others (proposed regulation, p. 10). This rationale is seriously flawed, and cannot provide a justification for the proposed regulation. There is no evidence of such a misperception. Furthermore, the proposed regulation would provide greater rights to health care workers than other workers currently enjoy under federal law. Effectively, the proposed regulation would create two classes of employees: those inside and those outside the health care professions, with the former having the special privilege of being able to refuse to provide a service regardless of the adverse effect of the refusal on the needs of their employer or the public.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S. §§ 2000e-2000e-15, is the principal federal statute providing protection to workers against discrimination. Title VII includes an explicit prohibition of discrimination based on religion, and this prohibition has been interpreted to require employers to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs, including a belief that providing a certain service, such as working on the Sabbath, is immoral.

However, Title VII carefully balances the rights of employees against the employer’s needs and the needs of the public. Employers are required to excuse an employee from providing service only if excusing the employee results in no significant cost or adverse effects. See Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63, 80-81 (1977). Accordingly, almost every court applying Title VII has concluded that the obligation to refrain from discriminating against an employee does not require an employer to allow an employee to categorically refuse to perform the essential functions of a job on the basis of religion if such a refusal has significant consequences for others. See, e.g., Shelton v. University of Med. and Dentistry of New Jersey, 223 F.3d 220 (3d Cir. 2000) (employer could discharge a nurse who refused to assist in treating a patient who required an emergency caesarian section, which would have terminated the pregnancy).

In sharp contrast to the balancing that takes place under Title VII, the proposed regulation contains no discussion of any limitations of the need to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. It provides a blank check to employees who want to invoke religion any time they choose to decline to provide a service. This inconsistency with Title VII will cause confusion and uncertainty among health care institutions and patients and will lead to conflicting legal results.

The problems caused by the proposed regulation’s failure to balance the rights of health care workers against the needs of patients is exacerbated by the proposed regulation’s excessively broad definition of covered individuals. Any individual who “assists in the performance” of a health care activity or service can refuse to provide such assistance on grounds of conscience. This regulation could cause chaos in the delivery of services. As HHS candidly admits, the proposed regulation would include not only operating room nurses who might have religious objections to a procedure, but also “an employee whose task it is to clean the instruments used in a particular procedure” (proposed regulation, p. 14). But since the regulation applies both inside and outside the operating room, the regulation would also “protect” a secretary who refuses to schedule an urgent procedure and also refuses to refer the patient to another health care provider, a dietician who refuses to prepare a meal for a patient undergoing an “immoral” procedure, a hospital warehouse worker who refuses to unload a truck delivering “immoral” medical supplies, or even the truck driver herself were she employed by a health care entity. The harm to patients could be unimaginable, even though the health care entity they thought would help them is funded in part by their own tax dollars.

3. Requirement for Written Assurances

The proposed regulation requires written certification by recipients of federal funds that they will comply with the statutes. This requirement was not part of any of the three original statutes and goes beyond their original intent. The reason for this requirement given by HHS is that it worries that “the public and many health care providers are largely uninformed of the protections afforded to individuals and institutions under these provisions” (proposed regulation, p. 9). But HHS does not supply any figures or even any anecdotal evidence that there is a lack of information about these protections or that this lack of information has caused harm. The written requirement seems like a remedy for a nonexistent problem.

The requirement to provide written assurances of compliance in order to receive federal funds is also excessively burdensome. The Department’s claim that “the future benefits will exceed the costs of complying with the regulation” (proposed regulation, p. 23) is doubtful in view of the table on the following page, where almost 590,000 health care “entities” are listed as affected by the regulation. Even if one could accept HHS’s estimate of the costs as $44.5 million per year, experience demonstrates that the expenses of compliance with federal regulations always increase as paperwork inundates administrators. Thus the services provided by federally funded health care providers will lose at least $44.5 million a year, affecting, among other things, the care given to about 17 million women a year who use federally funded services for family planning.

4. Impact on family well-being

The claim that the regulations will not have an impact on family well-being (proposed regulation, p. 29) is belied by logic as well as experience. If a woman cannot obtain emergency contraception because a pharmacist mistakenly believes that it causes abortion, she may have either an unwanted child or have to undergo an expensive abortion. No one could deny that such an event would have an adverse impact on family well-being. The Guttmacher Institute reports that 60 percent of women who seek abortions already have one or more children, so family well-being is uppermost in their minds (Guttmacher Institute. 2008. Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html). The ACOG, in the committee opinion referenced above, cites cases of provider refusal that clearly affected families adversely.
The Department cannot claim that this Provider Conscience Regulation will not have an impact on family well-being, especially when it is crafted to privilege the religious beliefs of health care workers over the welfare of patients.

5. Definition of abortion and sterilization

The draft of this regulation issued in July was severely criticized by many who value the separation of church and state as well as those who promote women’s welfare because it included a controversial and scientifically unsupported definition of abortion. That definition has been removed from the proposed regulation; indeed, the regulation contains no definition of abortion. However, the absence of any definition is not necessarily an improvement.
As indicated, “abortion or sterilization” are now undefined. By leaving these terms undefined, HHS has deliberately left open the possibility of wide and mistaken definitions of abortion. Pharmacists who refuse to dispense emergency contraception on the grounds that it is an abortifacient misunderstand the facts about its operation. Emergency contraception prevents fertilization, not implantation of a fertilized ovum. But such scientific facts are easily misunderstood and distorted. Because the regulation speaks only of “abortion,” there is room for personal interpretations of the word based on religious and ideological beliefs.
Thus a secretary or receptionist in a health clinic, who entertains factually unsupportable but “sincere” religious beliefs about the effects of contraception, can refuse to make an appointment for a woman or a man seeking help with effective contraception on the grounds that he/she objects to abortion. This is outrageous in the United States, where 73% of voters support policies making contraception available to all, including those who depend on federally funded health care providers.

Conclusion

HHS should not implement the proposed regulation. There is no factual record demonstrating a need for the regulation; the regulation is based entirely on conjecture; it is inconsistent with other federal laws and regulations; it exceeds the scope of the authorizing statutes; it imposes unjustified burdens on health care providers; it contains ill-advised definitions or no definitions at all where they are needed; and it will have a serious adverse impact on patient care and on reproductive rights.
A health care provider’s first priority must be the welfare of the patient, and accommodation of his/her own personal beliefs must not come at the expense of patient care. After all, the health care worker voluntarily chose her/his profession, and the obligations that derive from offering health care services. Without any justification, this regulation reverses that priority, elevating a health care worker’s personal feelings over patient need. As a result, the proposed regulation attaches burdens on health care to the distribution of federal funds designed to promote health care. No more glaring example of an irrational regulation can be imagined.

Respectfully Submitted September 25, 2008
Contact: Toni Van Pelt

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