Religious Right’s Abstinence-Only Agenda on the World Stage

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee indicated last week that Congress will reevaluate a controversial provision in Bush’s initiative to combat the global AIDS epidemic: a requirement that one-third of HIV prevention money be spent on abstinence-only education. The Hill reports that the abstinence provisions “were critical to gain support from conservative groups when the GOP-led Congress passed an AIDS authorization bill in 2003,” and predictably, religious-right groups are outraged:

“We’re definitely going to be lobbying very hard both Congress and President Bush who has supported these provisions to keep them in,” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs at the [Family Research Council]. “It’s not even a large part of the overall spending, but some in Congress are upset and want to try to remove that. I’m sorry, but I think that condemns hundreds of thousands of people to death.”

CWA believes that removing the provisions would have major ramifications. “If Title V is not reauthorized before the June 30 deadline, we will not only lose funding for abstinence programs, but just as importantly, the definitions and guidelines that govern all of the federal abstinence dollars,” said Shari Rendall, CWA’s director of legislation and public policy.

(CWA’s Rendall appears to be confusing the abstinence-only provision in the global AIDS initiative with another current religious-right project, the effort to maintain federal funding for dubious abstinence-only programming in U.S. public schools.)

These complaints echo those we reported last summer, when Sen. Feinstein proposed eliminating the abstinence-only restriction on funds. But contrary to McClusky’s claim that such an action “condemns hundreds of thousands of people to death,” the abstinence-only restriction has caused confusion among those fighting AIDS, to the point where 12 out of 15 countries studied by the Government Accountability Office had to reduce funding for prevention of mother-to-child transmission in order to meet the abstinence-only target.

The Institute of Medicine recently released a congressionally-mandated report on the effectiveness of the initiative that called for “evidence-based programming” – as opposed to ideologically-driven targets – and noted that “the budget allocations have made spending money in a particular way an end in itself rather than a means to an end—in this instance, the vitally important end of saving lives today and in the future.”

At the very least, the Religious Right should be wary of crossing U2 singer and development activist Bono, who praised Bush’s recent proposal to increase global AIDS funding but said, “Condoms are a part of the solution; they just are.”