- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2004

An anti-Bush demonstration this week at a conference sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows how federal funds are abused for political purposes, a House Republican said yesterday.

The House Government Reform Committee has voted to recommend a $7 million reduction in funding for events like the National STD Prevention Conference in Philadelphia this week, calling them “luxuries” and saying past conferences have been “noted for … political, rather than public health content.”

About 200 demonstrators chanted “Bush get wise, condoms save lives” outside the conference venue Wednesday, protesting the administration’s plan to increase funding for education programs that encourage sexual abstinence among young people.

“It is unfortunate that scientific exchanges are being overshadowed by political stunts,” Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican, said yesterday. “These activists are, of course, free to voice their opinions, but taxpayers should not be subsidizing the venues for their partisan events.”

The protest was organized by the Philadelphia and New York City chapters of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), the American Medical Student Association, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Philadelphia Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, Health Initiatives for Youth, Housing Works, the National Network of Abortion Funds, the New York City AIDS Housing Network, Project TEACH and YouthBase.

Housing Works is a New York-based group that received more than $1.9 million in funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1999 and 2000. House Republican aides said yesterday that they were investigating whether any of the other protest sponsors receive federal grants.

A CDC spokeswoman said yesterday that the agency was not the sole sponsor of the conference and that the protests were not part of the event.

“We were one of the co-sponsors. There were several other co-sponsors in addition to CDC,” said spokeswoman Bernadette Burton, naming the American STD Association, the National Coalition of STD Directors and the American Social Health Association.

“The protest … took place outside of the venue and it occurred after the session had ended,” she said, adding that the conference provided a forum for scientists to share “new information about advances in STD prevention.”

During the protest, activists also criticized Mr. Souder’s request that the Food and Drug Administration require that condom-package labels inform consumers that condoms don’t prevent HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually transmitted disease linked to cervical cancer.

Mr. Souder is chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources, which held a hearing yesterday on the issue, involving a 2000 federal law that requires condom labels to be “medically accurate.”

The FDA “has developed a regulatory plan to provide condom users with a consistent labeling message and the protection they should expect from condom use,” FDA official Dr. Daniel G. Schultz said at the hearing.

Last month, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, issued a budget report that criticized federal funding for conferences such as the Philadelphia event. The Department of Health and Human Services spent $40 million to fund conferences in 2002, including $3.6 million for an AIDS conference in Barcelona, where protesters shouted down HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, the report said.

Cheryl Wetzstein contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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