Religious Right’s Efforts to Influence Bush’s Global AIDS Policy

The term “abstinence” has become a point of confusion—while educators in the U.S. incorporate an abstinence message, along with safer sex messages, into comprehensive sex[ ] education, many groups on the Right use the term to mean abstinence-only education, which excludes other messages they say would conflict with abstinence. And these abstinence-only programs often actively discourage other messages: Abstinence-only funding by the Bush administration has provided for teaching public-school students “that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person’s genitals ‘can result in pregnancy,’” according to a 2004 report by House Democrats. And an abstinence-only program in Louisiana told students that, “The condom’s biggest flaw is that those using it to prevent the conception of another human being are offending God.”

Less visible is a similar effort by the Religious Right to change the way international aid is spent in preventing HIV/AIDS in Africa and elsewhere by emphasizing abstinence over condoms.
A year ago, Rolling Stone reported that

Ambassador Randall Tobias, who serves as Bush’s global AIDS czar, issued written guidelines in January that spell out the administration’s agenda. Groups that receive U.S. funding, Tobias warned, should not target youth with messages that present abstinence and condoms as “equally viable, alternative choices.” …

Groups that support the president’s religious agenda, meanwhile, are beginning to receive money that has traditionally been devoted to more experienced organizations. The Children’s AIDS Fund, a well-connected conservative organization, received roughly $10 million last fall to promote abstinence-only programs overseas — even though the group was deemed “not suitable for funding” by an expert review panel. FreshMinistries, a Florida organization with little experience in tackling AIDS, also received $10 million. “Bush has enacted policies that will redirect millions of dollars away from groups that have experience fighting HIV and AIDS and toward groups that don’t but are members of his religious constituency,” says Cohen.

More recently, the Baltimore Sun reported on a Bush administration directive that two-thirds of global AIDS-prevention money go to abstinence and fidelity, which a Government Accountability Office report criticized as eroding other prevention efforts, including preventing mother-child transmission and of course, condoms. In response, Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced an effort to make funding more flexible.

Now, Concerned Women for America’s Legislative Action Committee is biting back. The group sent out an alert yesterday:

In 2003, in a bold effort to combat the international crisis of AIDS, President Bush committed $15 billion to fight the disease around the world through a program called the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The results have been astounding, and have provided hope to millions of at-risk people around the world.

By the year 2007, approximately $4 billion will go to the Abstinence, Be Faithful and only then use of condoms (ABc) program which promotes abstinence as a key behavioral method of preventing the spread of AIDS. The program, modeled after methods used by faith-based organizations in the United States, has seen a dramatic decline in the transmission of AIDS in countries including Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

Senator Feinstein wants to end that effort by offering an amendment to strip funding for Abstinence and Be Faithful programs from Foreign Operations appropriations. Your Senators must hear from you that attempts to de-fund successful AIDS prevention programs that teach abstinence will deny those most in need of the programs that have had the best results.

The “ABC” program was a famous effort in Uganda and other countries in the 80s and 90s—not under the Bush administration. While it is still not clear how critical “ABC” was to Uganda’s then-success, and researchers are studying today’s version of the program, “ABC” is an example of comprehensive public education, including both abstinence and condom-use. By the third paragraph, Concerned Women for America even drops the letter “c” and they are accusing Feinstein’s effort to preserve comprehensive prevention aid of being an effort instead to end “ABC.”