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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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Attacking reproductive rights October 14, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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Recent legislation in Oklahoma would prohibit a woman from getting an abortion unless she first has an ultrasound and hears a doctor explain in detail the fetus depicted in the ultrasound. This is clearly an attempt to delay abortion and increase the difficulty of obtaining it early in a pregnancy. The Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a lawsuit challenging the Oklahoma law, Nova Health Systems v Brad Henry. The law intrudes on a patient’s privacy, says the Center for Reproductive Rights, and interferes with a doctor’s right to use her/his own medical judgment. In addition to the requirement for the doctor’s description of the ultrasound, the Oklahoma law dictates exactly how the medical abortion pill is to be administered and further says that a women cannot sue the doctor if she/he withholds additional information about the fetus, for example, the presence of a severe developmental defect.
The law will have serious consequences if it cannot be struck down. In Oklahoma, Reproductive Services, run by Nova Health Systems, will be forced to close. On the national level, the Oklahoma law will encourage copycat legislation in the states, emboldened by the success of Gonzales v. Carhart in the U.S. Supreme Court where a ban on Intact Dilation and Extraction was upheld. The assault on reproductive rights continues.

U.S.Administration Withholds Contraception from African Countries October 7, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Uncategorized.
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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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