Documents show how conservative doctors influenced abortion, trans rights - The Washington Post

A small group of conservative doctors has sought to shape the nation’s most contentious policies on abortion and transgender rights by promoting views rejected by the medical establishment as scientific fact, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post that describe the group’s internal strategies.

The records show that after long struggling to attract members, the American College of Pediatricians gained outsize political influence in recent years, primarily by using conservative media as a megaphone in its quest to position the group as a reputable source of information.

The organization has successfully lobbied since 2021 for laws in more than a half-dozen states that ban gender-affirming care for transgender youths, with its representatives testifying before state legislatures against the guidelines recommended by mainstream medical groups, according to its records. It gained further national prominence this year as one of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit to limit access to mifepristone, a key abortion drug.

Despite efforts to invoke the credibility of the medical profession, the American College of Pediatricians is viewed with skepticism by the medical establishment. For years, the group has presented statistics and talking points to state legislators, public school officials and the American public as settled science while internal documents emphasize how religion and morality influence its positions. Meeting minutes from 2021 describe how the organization worked with religious groups to “affect the idea makers through the high courts, professional literature, and legislatures.”

It promotes conversion therapy, a discredited practice intended to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ people that most medical societies warn can result in harm. Pediatric experts deemed a June 2022 report crafted by the group that undergirds a new Florida policy banning transgender care for Medicaid recipients as “unscientific.” Francis Collins, former longtime director of the National Institutes of Health, accused the group in 2010 of distorting his research to “make a point against homosexuality.”

The organization’s quest to ban the use of puberty blockers and hormone therapy for transgender minors has culminated in a string of recent legislative wins following lobbying in at least eight states, internal documents show.

Arkansas first enacted such a law in 2021, after Michelle Cretella, then executive director of the American College of Pediatricians, described such care as “experimental and dangerous” to legislators. A federal appeals court temporarily blocked it.

Versions of the law have since passed at least 20 other state legislatures, including Florida, Idaho, Indiana, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Missouri, Montana, Texas, North Dakota and Louisiana this spring alone; some face court challenges and one was vetoed by a governor. Similar bills are making their way through legislatures in North Carolina and Ohio.

At the federal level, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), an OB/GYN, recently reintroduced legislation endorsed by the American College of Pediatricians that would prevent doctors from performing “gender transition procedures” on minors and bar federal funds from being used for such procedures. Marshall’s spokesperson said he is not a member of the group.

The academy, which said more than 95 percent of its members are physicians, has pointed to “strong consensus among the most prominent medical organizations worldwide that evidence-based, gender-affirming care for transgender children and adolescents is medically necessary and appropriate.”

Records from early 2022 show membership of the American College of Pediatricians at about 700 people — just over 60 percent of whom self-identified as possessing medical degrees, including some holding prominent positions as hospital chiefs and a state health commissioner. The group, citing privacy, would not comment on the size or makeup of its membership.

The Heritage Foundation sent out a fundraising appeal on behalf of the American College of Pediatricians following the exposure of its internal documents: “It’s more important than ever for us to stand together — and support our pro-life, pro-American ally, American College of Pediatricians.”

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The Washington Post

Locations: Florida Arkansas Idaho Indiana West Virginia Oklahoma Missouri Montana Texas North Dakota Louisiana North Carolina Ohio 

Organizations: American College of Pediatricians National Institutes of Health The Heritage Foundation 

People: Francis Collins Michelle Cretella Roger Marshall 

Tags: Abortion Transgender LGBTQ+ Legislation Puberty Blockers 

Type: Headlines