National postpartum illness screening effort stalls

Three years after New Jersey became the first state to mandate postpartum-depression screening, a similar federal effort is foundering amid criticism from two unlikely sources: the Church of Scientology and a Republican senator nicknamed “Dr. No.”

The law, called the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act, would expand awareness about postpartum depression and fund research. It has the endorsement of several national women’s and mental-health groups.

[…]In this case, Coburn has no connection to Scientology, but has good reason to oppose the bill, according to Don Tatro, his press secretary.

“For disease-specific legislation, we feel that peer-reviewed scientists should be making the decisions on direct funding, rather than politicians,” Tatro said.

The MOTHERS Act runs against a major tenet of the Church of Scientology, whose beliefs are rooted in the writings of science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. Followers oppose psychiatry and mood-altering medication.

In 2006 Scientology’s most visible member, the actor Tom Cruise, criticized the actor and model Brooke Shields for taking the antidepressant Paxil to combat postpartum depression. Cruise this month told Oprah Winfrey that he had been “wrong,” adding: “I’m not trying or want to tell anyone how to live their life or what they should believe or shouldn’t believe.”

Some other church members won’t waver. The Scientology-affiliated Citizens Commission on Human Rights encourages its Web site visitors to send a form letter to senators, stating that postpartum depression could be treated with “normal medical or alternative means.”

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