Rich Lowry: Conservatives vs. Honest Reporting

Rich Lowry provides a good example of how to lie through omission in this article about AIDS testing.

For Lowry this is a case of those evil civil libertarians vs. babies with HIV. But spending five minutes with Google completely punctures Lowry’s main claim, that mandatory testing of pregnant women is a necessary condition for lowering the number of babies born with AIDS.

Lowry notes that in 1996, New York City passed a law that health care providers would have to routinely test women for HIV and inform them if they were HIV positive so that measurements could be taken to reduce the risk of the infant suffering from HIV as well. I’m not aware of much about the New York City law, but similar laws elsewhere do allow the mother to refuse such tests, but few do. Such testing, of course, relies on the premise that a significant number of mothers who are HIV positive will not know they have the disease and will not request such testing for social reasons, so this is the only way to accomplish this task.

Lowry writes of the New York City experiment,

According to the New York Times, in 1990 there were 321 newborns infected with HIV in New York City. In 2003 there were five. A decade ago many pregnant mothers didn’t know they were HIV-positive. They weren’t urged to get tested, and so they couldn’t take drugs that would make it less likely their babies would be infected. Newborns were tested, but — incredibly — in blind tests, meaning the mothers wouldn’t be informed of the results. The mother wouldn’t know to get treatment for her child or herself.

He then contrasts this with those civil libertarian nutsos in California, especially in Los Angeles,

Then-Rep., now Sen. Tom Coburn pushed legislation similar to Mayersohn’s at the federal level in the 1990s, but was frustrated by the same forces that opposed Mayersohn. Consequentially, the testing policy varies from state to state. Nationally, the rate of infants infected with HIV has declined, but it has not been stamped out. California — where lunatic obsessions still reign supreme — has resolutely resisted the New York approach. In 2002, the Los Angeles Times reported that cases of HIV among children were actually increasing.

So let’s ask one more time: Do we want healthy babies or not?

Okay, the first clue that something is bogus here is the bait-and-switch. When he’s talking about New York City he’s talking about new-born infants with HIV. When he switches to Los Angeles (and the article he’s apparently referring to is definitely about an increase in Los Angeles County), suddenly he’s talking about children.

The second obvious clue that something is up is that he talks vaguely about an increase without giving any absolute numbers. So lets look at the infant AIDS numbers in Los Angeles courtesy of the LA Public Health Department (PDF — Non-AIDS signifies children who are HIV+ but do not yet meet the CDC definition of having AIDS),

2000 2 3
2001 3 5
2002 0 3
2003 0 6

Since Los Angeles County is significantly larger than New York City, it has apparently experienced exactly the sort of tremendous drop in infants born with AIDS that New York has. If we are only going to use these two cities as our datapoints, it appears that semi-mandatory routine testing does not really make a difference.

So why did the Los Angeles Times report that AIDS cases among children were increasing in the county? That report was entirely about older children, not infants. Most of the children in that report — there were 18 total — had either been born outside of Los Angeles County, where mandatory testing wouldn’t have made a difference (several were, in fact, born in Mexico) or had contracted AIDS from blood transfusions.

So I guess the question here is do we want honest reporting of the results of mandatory AIDS testing or not? Lowry’s implicit answer is a resounding no.


Civil Libertarians vs. Public Health. Rich Lowry, National Review, February 4, 2005.

Pediatric Spectrum of HIV Disease (PSD) Annual Summary Report, 1988-2003 (PDF). Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, September 2004.

HIV Cases on Rise Among Los Angeles Children. Charles Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, November 8, 2002.