Thursday, May 12, 2005

Science vs. Dogma

Just how much influence does the Religious Reich have on policy in the Bush administration? This article from the the May 30 edition of The Nation by Ayelish McGarvey is summarized neatly by the Washington Post.

Soon after the Food and Drug Administration overruled its advisory panel last year and rejected an application to make an emergency contraceptive more easily available, critics of the agency said it had ignored scientific evidence and yielded to pressure from social conservatives.

The agency denied the charge, but an outspoken evangelical conservative doctor on the panel subsequently acknowledged in a previously unreported public sermon that he was asked to write a memo to the FDA commissioner soon after the panel voted 23 to 4 in favor of over-the-counter sales of the contraceptive, called Plan B. He said he believes his memo played a central role in the rejection of that recommendation.

The new information comes from a videotaped sermon in October by W. David Hager. On the tape, he said he was asked to write a “minority report” that would outline why over-the-counter sales should be rejected.

Speaking at the Asbury College chapel in Wilmore, Ky., Hager said, “I was asked to write a minority opinion that was sent to the commissioner of the FDA. For only the second time in five decades, the FDA did not abide by its advisory committee opinion, and the measure was rejected.”

Hager told the group that he had not written his report from an “evangelical Christian perspective,” but from a scientific one — arguing that the panel had too little information on how easier availability of Plan B would affect girls younger than 16. The FDA later cited that lack of information as the reason it rejected the application.

“I argued from a scientific perspective, and God took that information, and he used it through this minority report to influence the decision,” Hager said. “Once again, what Satan meant for evil, God turned into good.”


Hager has been a highly controversial figure because of his strong views against abortion and emergency contraception and in favor of abstinence education. In his October sermon, he said that Christians such as himself were at “war” with people who would take faith and values out of medical care.

Hager was appointed by the FDA to the Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee in 2002 and reappointed last year. A prominent Kentucky obstetrician and gynecologist, he has written numerous books on women’s health — generally from an evangelical Christian perspective.

In his October sermon, Hager said that White House officials called him in June 2001 and asked him to serve in some capacity — initially as a candidate for surgeon general and later as a member of two advisory boards. After one month, Hager said, he was called by the White House and asked to resign from those committees and join the FDA’s reproductive drugs panel instead because “there are some issues coming up we feel are very critical, and we want you to be on that advisory board.”

While the FDA sometimes rejects the recommendations of its expert panels, the Plan B case was highly unusual in that the vote was so lopsided in favor of over-the-counter sales and its own science staff had also strongly favored approval.

We’re not talking about having the Ten Commandments put up on the wall of a schoolroom here or debating whether or not Charles Darwin was on to something. This is crossing the line between church dogma and the health and welfare of the nation. How much further proof do you need that the Religious Reich is in charge of things that matter? How much more proof do you need to get really concerned?