Abortion Politics Might Be Holding Up Federal Health Agency Nominations, New York Times Says
The New York Times on Saturday examined the leadership vacancies at federal health agencies, reporting that abortion politics may be holding up the nomination process. Last week's announced departure of CDC Director Jeffrey Koplan, along with voids in leadership at the FDA, the NIH and the surgeon general's office, have left the "most important federal health jobs" unfilled as the Bush administration is attempting to "improve the nation's defenses" against bioterrorism. Filling those jobs will be "immensely complicated" because of the "high level of expertise" needed, the Times reports. Bush's "strong stands against abortion and for limits on embryo research" may further complicate the "sensitive" nomination process because his "conservative base expects his appointments to reflect those views."
Abortion politics "may have [already] clouded" Dr. Anthony Fauci's prospects of becoming head of the NIH. Fauci, who now directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson's choice to head the agency, but was told that he is "highly unlikely to be nominated" because he requested to serve concurrently as director of the NIAID and the NIH. However, according to conservatives, Fauci's past support of fetal tissue research that uses tissue from aborted fetuses may also have played a role in the administration's decision not to nominate him. In addition, Fauci has "painstakingly refused" to state his opinion on abortion. The Times reports that the administration is now looking at Dr. Elias Zerhouni, executive vice dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, to lead NIH. However, his nomination may be complicated by the fact that Johns Hopkins has been a "pioneer" in embryonic stem cell research, the Times reports. Zerhouni's views on stem cells are not widely known, and stem cells and abortion would likely be raised during a Senate confirmation proceeding. Health experts say it is "increasingly important" to fill the positions because of the role that health agencies are expected to play in bioterrorism defense (New York Times, 2/23). Mohammed Ahkter, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said that politics should not enter into the administration's choices to head federal health agencies. "We need to rise above petty politics, not apply stupid litmus tests to identify who's fit for the job -- whether you support condom use for HIV/AIDS to whether you're pro-life or pro-choice. These are not the issues upon which the nation's future depends," he said (Manning/Sternberg, USA Today, 2/25). HHS spokesperson Kevin Keane said "he was confident" that the White House would make nominations soon. "Ultimately, when it is said and done, there are going to be very strong leaders in those positions," he added (Stolberg, New York Times, 2/23).