Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), selected by President-elect Trump to serve as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is a member of a medical group known for its opposition to evidence-based science on vaccinations and abortion care.
Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), confirmed to Rewire in a phone interview Thursday that Price is a member of the organization and that the group was “excited” Price had been selected to head HHS.
The group’s website confirms Price was a member as early as 2009.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that the AAPS, through its journal [Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons] JPANDS, is waging a war on science- and evidence-based medicine in the name of its politics,” Dr. David Gorski wrote in 2008 on the blog of the Society for Science-Based Medicine. Gorski, a surgical oncologist, pointed to AAPS’s medically and scientifically unsupported positions on vaccinations, HIV/AIDs, and abortion, as well as its inflammatory rhetoric on undocumented immigrants, as examples of the group’s dubious work.
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AAPS is explicitly anti-choice, and in a 2003 resolution defined human life as beginning at the moment of conception, which is in line with the radical “personhood” movement. Legislation based on such beliefs seeks to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as “persons” with full legal protection under the U.S. Constitution, which would mean criminalizing abortion as well as many forms of contraception.
The medical group promotes false claims that abortion care increases the risk of breast cancer, even though the allegation is refuted by the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
AAPS has published numerous studies in its journal pushing the myth, including one by anti-choice activist Karen Malec, who appears to have no medical background. Another article published by AAPS was authored by Joel Brind, featured as one of Rewire’s “false witnesses” for pushing egregious falsehoods about abortion care.
“Current evidence does not support such a link between abortion and breast cancer, and there are now enough studies to allow us to conclude that there almost certainly is none,” Gorski wrote in 2008. “Nonetheless, the AAPS and JPANDS continue to promote this link as though the scientific consensus actually supported it, further evidence of how the political agenda of the AAPS consistently warps its scientific views.”
In a press release announcing an amicus brief it filed in the U.S. Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, AAPS argued, with no basis, that the unnecessary provisions regulating abortion care providers included in Texas’ omnibus anti-choice bill were simply “ethical and quality standards” meant to protect patient health.
The Court, however, ruled that the provisions “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.” Justice Stephen Breyer in his majority opinion pointed out that “when directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”
It isn’t clear whether Price subscribes to all of AAPS’s positions on abortion. Orient told Rewire that she thought Price “has the reputation of being pro-life,” but that members took various positions on the organization’s stances. Price’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.
Price has, however, backed related legislation that suggests some overlap between AAPS and the congressman’s views on abortion. Price co-sponsored the Right to Life Act—a piece of extreme “personhood” legislation—in 2007, and the medically and scientifically dubious Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in 2015.
Price shares similar views with AAPS when it comes to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, which mandates employer-sponsored health-care plans to cover contraceptives as preventive care without cost sharing. Price dismissed women who may not be able to access contraception without the mandate in a 2012 interview with ThinkProgress, claiming “there’s not one” woman who would be left behind should the rule be rescinded. AAPS has been similarly critical of the benefit.
AAPS also pushes a discredited anti-vaccination stance and has published a paper claiming government-sponsored anti-tobacco programs are harmful. As Stephanie Mencimer reported for Mother Jones in 2009, the group has worked with tobacco officials “to help the company’s ‘junk science’ campaign.”