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Agape and HPV

A columnist at AgapePress is accusing NOW and Planned Parenthood of ignoring HPV before a vaccination came out.

Loudly heralded by many liberal groups such as Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women (NOW), if you believe the pretty story they are knitting with haste, you might believe they have been on the frontlines of the battle to protect women from cervical cancer.

But the facts tell a different story. The facts speak to a long campaign of deceit promoted by pro-sex groups over the past ten years to pretend that there was no disease to cure that a little latex couldn’t prevent. Looking carefully at the edges where truth has been snipped, it is possible to tug at a loose fact and find a story just one second of truth away from unraveling.

Yes, let’s see what the facts are.

Loose Thread #1
The first word I heard of human papillomavirus (HPV) six years ago was at a meeting of abstinence educators. HPV was one of over 25 sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that abstinence educators were teaching in their medically accurate sex-education classes.

Where was Planned Parenthood back then? They were constructing a vicious and medically inaccurate campaign aimed at destruction of abstinence education. What was Planned Parenthood saying about HPV back then? They called the mention of it a scare tactic of radical right-wing fanatics.

According to Planned Parenthood and NOW, HPV was just one of many sexual kill-joys that conservatives used to deprive adolescents of their “right” to express their “natural” sexual urges with wholesome activities such as oral sex with dental dams and outercourse. Once infected and threatened with possible cervical cancer, the “cure” of choice promoted by these groups was a pap smear … a belated opportunity to tell a woman she has cancer caused by a politically conservative virus.

6 years ago? A vicious campaign? Notice the lack of actual evidence. I guess she means this (from the Houston Chronicle, Feb 1999):

Cervical cancer: Women know it. Women fear it. But, alas, according to the results of a survey released last week by the American Medical Women’s Association, the majority of women don’t know its leading cause is HPV, the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus.

Moreover, the poll, which was released in Washington at the kickoff of what is being called the National Cervical Cancer Public Education Campaign, found that 76 percent of women surveyed had never even heard of the human papilloma virus.

The campaign, led by the American Medical Women’s Association and composed of more than a dozen other health organizations – ranging from the American Cancer Society to Planned Parenthood Federation of America – is trying to change that. They have a simple message: Knowledge is power. And with a little knowledge, women can reduce their risk of cervical cancer.

“This is exciting news in the battle against cervical cancer,” a campaign spokesman said. “We now know the primary cause of cervical cancer, which is HPV, and we now have a new detection method available. And with education and early detection, cervical cancer is preventable.”

A vicious campaign…to warn women about the dangers and how to avoid it?

Loose Thread #2
Where was the National Organization for Women back then when cervical cancer was killing more women annually than HIV? Linking arms with Planned Parenthood for more medically inaccurate sound-bites, NOW decried the fear-based claims of conservative religious fanatics. Cervical cancer killing women? If so, NOW took no steps to alert women to the connection between HPV and cervical cancer. Worse still, NOW put duct tape on the lips of anyone bold enough to mention HPV.

As recently as 2004, at their conference held in Las Vegas, NOW leadership rejected an opportunity to educate women about HPV. Asked to support a resolution for Cervical Cancer Education, NOW leadership quickly pulled the resolution off the table and into the back room, where “privately” the NOW Board promptly banished this call for an educational effort to tell women about HPV and its link to cervical cancer.

Hey, look, some evidence. Sadly, I can find nothing about this and will have to let it go for now.

Loose Thread #3
The first time I heard condoms do not prevent infection from HPV was six years ago, a medically accurate fact taught by an abstinence educator. The second, third, fourth, and fifth times I heard the medically accurate truths about condoms and their failure to provide anything at all like “safe sex” were at medical conferences hosted by agencies supporting abstinence education as a reasonable and necessary health response to the STD epidemic.

Bzzzt! Wrong. Condoms offer protection against a number of STDs, including HPV. There has been uncertainty about HPV in the past. The right seized upon this in order to scare people out of having sex. We now know they are pretty effective in reducing the risk of infection.

As far back as 2001, a comprehensive, medically accurate review of all research on condoms published by the National Institutes of Health/Centers for Disease Control (NIH/CDC) revealed the paucity of evidence supporting condoms as “protection” against the many STDs of this epidemic. The information in this report explains why one in five people today over the age of 12 is now infected with genital herpes. It also explains why condoms do not prevent infections by HPV leading to cervical cancer.

How subtle. Paucity of evidence? To a degree, as there was a paucity of data in some areas. And what does the study say about that:

[T]he absence of definitive conclusions reflected inadequacies of the evidence available and should not be interpreted as proof of the adequacy or inadequacy of the condom to reduce the risk of STDs other than HIV transmission in men and women and gonorrhea in men.

How about what it (technically, what an updated fact sheet) says about HPV:

While the effect of condoms in preventing human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is unknown, condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer, an HPV-associated disease.

I recommend you read that fact sheet and this summary. You can compare and contrast our columnist’s comments with what is actually in the study.

We’re all grateful for a vaccine that will prevent cervical cancer. But some of us have been fighting the cause of women’s health and prevention of cervical cancer for the past ten years. Others, sadly, have been carrying briefcases filled with duct tape.

No, we’re not all grateful. Some, like those on the religious right, are less than happy:

In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. “Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV,” says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

“Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex,” Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus.

Abstinence-only education doesn’t work. It makes things worse. That’s a fact. It’s high time the religious right stop pretending their antiquated values are backed up by the evidence.

Categories: Religion, Science
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