There has long been general agreement that it is acceptable to restrict an individual’s freedom to behave in such a way as to cause direct harm to others. Laws against assault and murder are found in the Bible and even in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, which dates to the 18th century B.C. When the harm is less direct, however, the issues become more controversial.
Most controversial are governmental restrictions on people’s freedom to harm themselves. Although the investigation did not lead to withdrawal of funding from any of these projects, such episodes do have the effect of discouraging scientists and funding agencies from conducting research on many important public health problems. While there is no dispute that abstinence is the most effective way to prevent pregnancy and HIV transmission, scientific studies have found abstinence only programs to be ineffective.
The New York Times reported that the National Cancer Institute’s Website contained information suggesting that having an abortion increased a woman’s risk of breast cancer. This issue had long been discredited by a number of epidemiologic studies, and the publicity forced the Institute to remove the inaccurate information. The George W. Bush administration was notorious for going beyond previous political practices in manipulating and distorting scientific evidence to fit its political agenda.