The Fight To Take Back Our Health Care System From Junk Science


You’ve seen the headlines: another abortion restriction approved, a record-breaking measles outbreak, a new hospital merger, a controversy over whether an individual should remain on life support. Now, a new campaign from the Center for Inquiry wants you to start connecting the dots.

Keep Health Care Safe and Secular is a new project hoping to expose the “powerful influence of religious dogma, psuedoscience, and misinformation on American health care” that is contributing to bad policy. The Center for Inquiry, a secular humanist organization that works to promote scientific reason, wants American voters to realize that many of the controversies related to health issues aren’t rooted in fact.

“The campaign, broadly speaking, is focused on two issues: the use of religious beliefs to limit access to health services, and the remedies and cures that aren’t scientifically sound,” Michael De Dora, who’s leading the new effort, told ThinkProgress. “We wanted to put all of those issues together in a coordinated campaign to make the point that health care should be guided by science and reason.”

For instance, the lawmakers who push for further regulations on abortion typically cite junk science — like the theory that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, or the racially biased myth that Asian-Americans choose abortion based on the fetus’ sex — that has been thoroughly debunked.


Nonetheless, the facts haven’t stopped states around the country from enacting a record-breaking number of abortion-related measures that contradict what we already know about medicine. That legislation, including everything ranging from imposing mandatory waiting periods to tightening regulations on clinics, is essentially offering “solutions” for problems that doesn’t actually exist. Elected officials continue to attempt to redefine the medical terms of pregnancy and mandate alternative protocols for administering medication, all over the protests of doctors in the field.

“The battle over reproductive rights is certainly one of the most important areas for Americans to be thinking about and acting on,” De Dora said. “A lot of anti-science is a rationalization from religious lawmakers who know they can’t win in court if their reasoning is expressed with explicitly religious language. But they still want to arrive at their goal of restricting abortion… It’s someone trying to twist science to fit their preconceived notion of what result they want.”

Particularly since abortion restrictions are enacted on the state level, it’s an area that De Dora believes is ripe for citizen engagement. The Safe and Secular campaign is primarily working to inform Americans about what’s really driving the policies in the health care sector, and ultimately hopes to encourage people to get involved by contacting their local legislators and demanding change.

In addition to protecting reproductive rights, the Center for Inquiry also wants to pressure the U.S. government to stop spending billions of dollars on the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which hasn’t yet found any persuasive evidence to support the types of alternative treatments being studied there. Some of the trials conducted at the NCCAM include investigating whether lavender and lemon scents can help heal wounds, whether coffee enemas can help cure pancreatic cancer, and whether “distant healing” can help improve the health of people with AIDS.

Other prongs in the campaign include asking the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on cancer clinics that over-promise results based on an unverified treatment method; tracking the outsized control of the Catholic Church on our hospital system; and ensuring that religious-based ideas about the sanctity of life don’t prevent Americans from having control over doctor-assisted dying, or removing family members from life support.


Although it may appear as though Safe and Secular is hostile to religion as a whole, De Dora says that’s certainly not the case when it comes to Americans’ right to practice their personal beliefs.

“There’s absolutely room for religious believers in this campaign,” he said, noting that the commitment to get junk science out of our health care system doesn’t require you to be an atheist. “If you’re compelled by your religion to protect women’s access to abortion, we would say great, let’s work together. But the policies still need to be secular. Once you’re inspired by religion to do something, you can still enact policy in a secular way and ensure that it’s universalized for our plural society.”

“Religion should never force you to leave your brain at the door. Nor should religion and science be seen as inherently opposed to each other,” Sally Steenland, the director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Institute at the Center for American Progress, added. “Quite the contrary: religion should encourage us to challenge dogma, embrace scientific inquiry and curiosity, and be open to discovery and new interpretations of ancient truths.”

Steenland, who has been involved in efforts to reframe reproductive justice as a faith issue and push back on Hobby Lobby’s narrow definition of religious liberty, pointed out that the issues with junk science can go far beyond religion. “In my view, it’s not secularism per se that is the answer, since secularism is also prone to rigid dogma that can fly in the face of facts. What’s most needed is an open mind and critical thinking,” she said.

Safe and Secular is urging people to contact them to report any instances when their ability to access health services may have been restricted by psuedoscience. De Dora also noted that people need to “take up arms, take action, and get loud” to let lawmakers know they’re concerned about the policies that are being created that don’t have any basis on scientific evidence.