Science Public Ploicy News

Sexual Health Grants Targeted By Conservative Group

At a joint hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, several Members of Congress asked the NIH Director for an explanation of the medical benefits of a list of ten sexual health research projects.

By Karen Studwell

APA staff recently learned that an apparent "hit list" of sexual health grants was sent to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) following the October 2 testimony of NIH Director Elias Zerhouni. At a joint hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, several Members of Congress asked the NIH Director for an explanation of the medical benefits of a list of ten sexual health research projects. The list included studies of the sexual behaviors of older men, risk behaviors of prostitutes and a conference on sexual arousal. This line of inquiry followed on the heels of a House amendment proposed by Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) in July that would have rescinded funding for five of these same grants at NIH. That amendment was defeated by a slim vote of 212-210.

When NIH officials asked for a copy of the original list mentioned during the hearing, a much longer list of over 150 grants was sent that addressed several issues related to HIV/AIDS, high-risk sexual behaviors, stigmatization of homosexual populations, and substance abuse. The list, compiled by the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), also contained the names of a number of researchers who received no federal funds, but who, in the past, had studied issues related to homosexuality. While staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee denied having made any formal inquiries into these grants, there is still concern that Congress might take steps in the future to stifle research on HIV/AIDS, adolescent sexual behavior, drug use, and homosexual populations.

APA Public Policy staff contacted psychologists who were included on the list to inform them that NIH may be collecting information about their grants in order to respond to questions from Congress. APA also encouraged psychologists to contact their Members of Congress to inform them of the importance of this research to the public health. While there is no current congressional action to restrict funding for these grants, there is a high probability that the House Republican Study Committee, which assembled the smaller list, will continue to issue statements denouncing these and other sexual health research projects.

Zerhouni, addressing the November 3 annual meeting of the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), urged the behavioral sciences community to educate Congress about the need for sexual health research, especially those offices that had not previously been supportive of this research. Responding to claims from the Traditional Values Coalition that NIH is run like the National Endowment for the Arts, Zerhouni stated, "Bad paintings do not destroy families. AIDS Kills. Art has never killed anyone."

In an APA statement in support of the NIH peer review process and sexual behavior research, APA CEO Norman Anderson, asserted, "Without studying those populations linked to the widespread transmission of disease, there is little hope that we will ever defeat this public health epidemic. Outside scientific experts from many of America's most respected universities, rather than NIH officials, evaluate the scientific relevance and validity of this research. This scientific process alone must be allowed to determine the value of all research."

In addition to its efforts to defeat the Toomey amendment, APA is working with other societies to create a new coalition -- the National Alliance to Support Sexual Health Research and Policy. The Alliance will hold its first meeting in December and will focus its efforts on educating Congress about the necessity for additional research on sexual health and development.

If you would like to contact your member of Congress, please go to the APA Government Relations website and find out how you can inform your Member of Congress about the importance of protecting the NIH peer review process from political interference, as well as the need for research into normal adult sexual development, HIV/AIDS prevention, high risk sexual behaviors, addiction and sexual abuse.