In This Article

Example 2 - Disappearing Web Sites

By 2002, several major medical organizations, including the World Health Organization, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), had concluded on the basis of epidemiologic results that induced abortion was not linked to a risk of later breast cancer. A fact sheet on the NCI Web site (http://www.nci.nih.gov) stated that the consensus view was that there was no link between abortion and breast cancer risk based on analysis of several well-designed studies, notably a large Danish study involving 1.5 million women.[8,9,10]

However, in November 2002, the NCI quietly took down from its Web site the information stating this consensus view and replaced the conclusion with the following language:

"Some studies have reported statistically significant evidence of an increased risk of breast cancer in women who have had abortions, while others have merely suggested an increased risk." [9]

The timing was suspicious, for at about the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had replaced an online fact sheet about condoms. The original fact sheet, " Condoms and Their Use in Preventing HIV Infection and Other STDs ," discussed the proper use of condoms and the effectiveness of different types of condoms, and cited studies that supported the notion that condom education does not promote sexual activity.[8] The replacement fact sheet " Male Latex Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases "[11] lacks instruction on condom use and specific information on condom effectiveness and obviously (by using bold-face font) emphasizes that condom may not prevent STDs and promotes abstinence:

"The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected. For persons whose sexual behaviors place them at risk for STDs, correct and consistent use of the male latex condom can reduce the risk of STD transmission. However, no protective method is 100 percent effective, and condom use cannot guarantee absolute protection against any STD."[11]

A New York Times report suggested that the Web pages were altered because of pressure from the Bush Administration officials.[8] The NCI Fact Sheet apparently had been revised after complaints made by some members of Congress to Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson.[8] Reaction to the actions taken at the NCI was prompt. Many physicians, members of Congress, and some media were outraged. The New York Times published an editorial on January 6, 2003, which stated that the revision "is such an egregious distortion of the evidence that one can only hope it is an interim statement ... and not a final surrender."[12,13] The response from the NCI was also prompt, and they summoned a blue-ribbon commission to review all the evidence again. This took place in February 2003, and by March 2003, the fact sheet on the NCI Web site had been revised again; it states that there is "no association" between breast cancer risk and abortion and notes that the evidence is strong.[14]

In the span of 5 months during this administration, the public was advised of no association between abortion and breast cancer risk, a positive association, and no association... all in the absence of any new data. The inescapable conclusion is that federal censorship led to bowdlerizing Web sites that contained any information inconsistent with the prevailing right-wing orthodoxy about sex and sexuality.

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