“Elections have consequences,” said President Barack Obama in 2009, as he started to press for policies such as affordable health care against Republican opposition. Recent Republican leaders have echoed his phrase , as red state legislatures banned abortion, prevented the country from taking steps to combat the climate crisis and allowed easier access to firearms. They also opposed a vigorous public response to the pandemic. This makes the consequences for this fall’s election extremely serious.
What these issues share is overwhelming scientific support to pursue one policy direction over the other. They also share another thing in common: candidates will have to choose between following the scientific evidence or acting as if it doesn’t exist. You’ll find both local and federal candidates on your Election Day ballot who support policies based upon tested scientific evidence, and those who are influenced by unsupported assumptions or biases. The scientific method has led to vaccines, cleaner air, water, and new economic sectors. Our country will prosper if office seekers use research-based evidence to make decisions. Rejecting this evidence will only lead to more suffering. The following survey of urgent policy matters highlights the differences:
Reproductive and gender rights. The Supreme Court overturned Roe , allowing any state to restrict or ban abortion rights. This allowed states to force women to take on the risk of getting pregnant against their will. About 50 scientific papers have compared women who received an abortion when they wanted one with women who were turned away. For several years, the women who were denied abortion were compared with those who had it. They were also more likely not to be employed and to live below the federal poverty line. Pregnancy is far more dangerous than abortion. The U.S. already has a startlingly high rate of maternal mortality, and one study estimates that a national ban would drive up those deaths by 21 percent. These facts are ignored by office seekers who support abortion bans. Instead, many prefer narrow religious doctrine.
Politicians who oppose gender-affirming health care are just as blinkered. Alabama passed a law that criminalizes such care for transgender youth, while Texas directed state officials in Texas to investigate the allegations of child abuse. Florida wants the treatments withheld. These positions ignore the lifesaving benefits of these treatments. A 2020 study in the journal Pediatrics looked at teenagers who were denied hormone-blocking treatments that temporarily delay puberty while the youth consider their gender. Those teens went on to have a much greater lifetime risk of suicidal thoughts. This medication is reversible.
Health and the pandemic. In summer 2012, Congress passed a budget bill that included several important health-care provisions. One was to give Medicare the power to negotiate wildly escalating drug prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers. More than 47 percent of new drugs released in 2020-2021 cost more than $150,000 a year, according to a study in the journal JAMA; only 9 percent of new drugs topped that dollar figure as recently as 2013. Senate Republicans opposed the bill. The bill will allow more Americans to access lifesaving drugs. They eliminated a specific provision to cap the cost of insulin at $35 per month for people with private insurance. Right now in the U.S., a single dose can cost more than $300, forcing many of the several million Americans with type 1 diabetes to skip doses. Affordable health care saves lives, as the evidence is overwhelming. One study showed that states that expanded eligibility for Medicaid, a low-cost health program, saved thousands of people from premature deaths. People lost years of their lives in states that voted against this expansion.
The U.S. pandemic response has been filled with missteps on all sides. Many conservative Republican-led jurisdictions have been extremely hostile to basic public health measures. Despite the large number of studies showing masks reduce transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the N95 style is the most effective version), these places resisted mask mandates, even as the U.S. climbed to a nationwide toll of more than one million deaths from COVID. Several Republican-led state legislatures introduced laws that took power away from local public health agencies and gave it to state politicians. And officials in Florida, urged on by Governor Ron DeSantis, refused to recommend COVID vaccines for any children or teens. At that time, 1,200 children nationwide had been killed by the virus, and a study had shown vaccines were 94 percent effective at keeping kids aged 12 through 18 out of the hospital. None of the vaccine trials in children showed any serious adverse health effects.
Gun safety. In the U.S., we are dying from a plague of gunfire: 45,000 people are killed by firearms every year; the most recent numbers show more children and young adults were killed by guns than by cars. While the pace of mass shootings in 2022–at least one incident a day where at least four people were killed or injured–grabs headlines, most of the thousands of victims are shot one or two at a time. People of color are particularly affected by the high death toll. Just more than half of the dead are Black men. The grim reality is that not all deaths are tragic. Approximately 85,000 people were wounded by gunfire in 2017, the most recent year for which these data are available; many of them have pain and disability for the rest of their lives. Many politicians support pro-gun lobby groups and want to relax permit rules to make it easier to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
These officials have repeated the false claim that more armed good men will stop more armed evil guys. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas used this disproven refrain after the school massacre in Uvalde, where in fact many armed good guys (the police) did not stop one bad guy. More to the point, research carried out by investigators at Texas State University using FBI data showed that an armed bystander shot the attacker only 22 times out of 433 active shooter incidents. Even if a “good guy”, the carnage is already done. For instance, in a Sutherland Springs, Tex., church shooting, an armed neighbor fired at the assailant but only after 25 people had been killed, including a pregnant woman, and 22 wounded.
Research clearly shows that more guns mean more crime and death when they are kept in a home. A 2003 study looked at levels of gun ownership among murder and suicide victims. Among gun owners, the odds of becoming a murder victim were 41 percent higher when compared with people who did not keep guns in the house. The odds for dying by suicide were 244 percent higher. That last tragic number is important: of those 45,000 annual firearm-related deaths, nearly 25,000 are suicides.
There are many ways to improve gun safety, and save innocent lives. These methods have been demonstrated and studied, and candidates who support them should be voted. Safe firearm-storage laws should be passed and enforced, for instance. Stricter regulation of gun dealers is an effective measure, as are universal background checks, mandatory licensing requirements, red flag laws, and bans on assault-style weapons and magazines that hold enormous amounts of bullets.
Climate. The climate bill by the Biden administration passed after being cut from trillions to billions in spending. It does have some notable wins. Chief among them: support for solar panels and wind turbines and funds for clean energy projects in poor communities. However, at the state level, some Republican-dominated legislatures are preventing reductions in fossil-fuel usage. These reductions are necessary to stop the rise in temperature that is causing catastrophic storms and wildfires across the U.S. According to scientific consensus, these reductions are required. Yet West Virginia’s attorney general announced plans to sue the federal government if it rules that publicly traded companies have to reveal their levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Several Republican state lawmakers have introduced bills to punish companies if they divest from fossil fuels. And Texas passed a law prohibiting new construction that avoids natural gas as a fuel source.
There are other crucial issues that divide candidates, such as backing state bills that prevent schools from teaching about racism and sexism in American history. It will also be very popular to promise to lower inflation. Take a hard look at the attitudes of these office-seekers to policies based on scientific evidence. We urge you to vote for science.
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