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I agree with Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann


I’m the new Director of Strategy and Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation in the United States. And yes I agree with those two – on one item each.

Here’s how I came to agree with Rick Perry: I served in the Maine legislature for ten years. I advocated legislation that would offer the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine to girls age 12. About the same time, Texas Governor Rick Perry advocated for the vaccine by signing an executive order.

My reason for advocating for the HPV vaccine was scientific evidence. While I’m a lawyer and was then a politician, not a scientist, I revere scientific reasoning, it is vital for informing the public policy process. Currently, it is underutilized in politics, misrepresented in the media and misunderstood by the public. So, if the scientific evidence changes, I would happily modify my view, but the evidence to date supports the claim that as more girls receive the HPV vaccine, the fewer women will face cervical cancer in the future.

When I considered the proposed legislation in Maine, public health advocates spoke to me movingly about the consequences of cervical cancer, including the prospect of infertility and the risk of death – many deaths. I was proud to advocate for this legislation; however, only Virginia and Washington DC passed laws in support of the vaccine. (Rick Perry’s Executive Order was later reversed).

Keep in mind that many other vaccination bills have been passed in America (despite the anti-vaccination movement), but when you combine vaccination and – gasp! – the mere idea that some teen girls may, perhaps – possibly -- engage in sexual activity at some point…well.. then…you are climbing a high political mountain indeed (with a bubbling volcano at the top).

Whatever his motives, I agree with the policy that Governor Perry offered. But “motives” lead me to the part where I agree with -- yes that’s right -- Michele Bachmann.

You see, when I supported the HPV vaccine, I did not get a volcano of campaign cash from Merck and the pharmaceutical big boys. Michele Bachmann called Gov. Perry’s HPV executive order the result of “crony capitalism.” Strong words. In this instance, Congresswoman Bachmann actually has evidence to support her conclusion.

Rick Perry, who usually follows the commandment “Doeth Whatever the Religious Right Says”, signed the HPV Executive Order (before religious opposition had coalesced in the Texas legislature). In this week’s debate Gov. Perry said he got $5,000 from Merck “And if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000 I’m offended.” I’ll pass quickly by the old saying -- “now that we know what you are, we are now only negotiating as to price” – and move to the reality that however you slice Gov. Perry’s “$5,000” assertion, it is a lie.

Gov. Perry’s campaigns have received nearly $30,000 from Merck since 2000, but it goes much deeper. Mr. Perry’s former Chief of Staff, one Mike Toomey, was a lobbyist for Merck. In 2006 Gov. Perry took a prominent role in the Republican Governor’s Association -- then the RGA received $380,000 from Merck and its subsidiaries. The RGA in turn gave nearly $4 million to Rick Perry. (Hey scientists! Correlation? or Causation?) Mike Toomey has since helped to found a “Super PAC” which plans to raise $55 million for Rick Perry’s presidential effort.

Five thousand dollars indeed.

Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann -- with no discernable scientific evidence -- associates the HPV vaccine with mental retardation, which prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to respond with, effectively, this word: nonsense.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend that girls receive HPV vaccine around age 11 or 12. Forgotten amid all the prurient right-wing fundamentalist nonsense, is that twelve is the age at which the vaccine produces the best immune response in the body.

It might actually be important to protect girls well before the onset of sexual activity as young women.

In the U.S., about 6 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year, and 4,000 women die from cervical cancer. Four thousand die. Many more are hurt – hurt permanently -- by this disease in a way that will affect their lives in profound and negative ways. This is a life-saving vaccine, protecting girls from cervical cancer.

Sadly lost amid the ocean of money and religious fanaticism is science – and compassion -- for those who could be protected from cancer. Rick Perry now says he regrets his Executive Order. (Merck knows Perry will obey when the chips are down, so it’s time to for him placate religious extremists).

Too many political commentators on this issue discuss the jockeying in the Republican primary without -- perhaps -- noting how it might be important to consistently support public health and support a sound approach to public policy based on reason, science, and compassion for our fellow. I guess that’s what RDFRS is for, reason, science, and compassion. More soon.

Sean Faircloth, is the Director of Strategy and Policy RDFRS U,S.. He is author of the upcoming book Attack of the Theocrats: How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What We Can Do About It. Advance copies are available in the RDFRS store in the link above. Faircloth served ten years in the Maine legislature. In his final term he was elected Majority Whip by his caucus colleagues. At the Secular Coalition for America Faircloth devised and led the Secular Decade strategic plan. Faircloth speaks widely on separation of church and state, the Constitution, and secular strategy.

Faircloth served as opening speaker for Richard Dawkins' Fall 2011 tour of the United States, and he will do so again in spring 2012.



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