WASHINGTON Forty-three pro-life and pro-family advocates have signed a letter to President Bush urging him to oppose and threaten a veto of draft legislation to reauthorize his initiative to combat AIDS in Africa.
The version proposed by Democratic leaders in Congress would undermine several pro-life and pro-family elements of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the letter's signers, including the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land, said.
It would change PEPFAR "from an HIV/AIDS focused program to a family-planning focused program," the letter said, noting that the legislation would remove abstinence education grants and transfer the money to international organizations that perform and promote abortions.
Other signers of the letter included representatives of Concerned Women for America, which sent the letter; Family Research Council; Focus on the Family; and Life Issues Institute. Land is president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
The House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs is expected to meet the week of Feb. 25-29 to consider the reauthorization of PEPFAR.
The letter to the president said the draft legislation "emasculates the abstinence requirements" of PEPFAR. Currently, 33 percent of PEPFAR's prevention funds are spent on abstinence and be-faithful programs, but the draft legislation removes these funds, the letter noted.
PEPFAR was introduced in 2003 as a pledge of $15 billion over a five-year period (2003-08) to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is the largest international health initiative ever instituted by a single country and set a goal to provide treatment to 2 million HIV-infected people, to prevent 7 million new infections and to support care for 10 million people.
Rep. Tom Lantos, D.-Calif., drafted the new reauthorization language protested by the pro-family leaders' letter. Lantos, 80, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, died Feb. 11 of complications from cancer. The committee's new leadership is expected to promote the same language.
Before his death, Lantos expressed disappointment with the opposition by some Republicans to the new language. He said in a Feb. 7 written statement, "The draft global HIV/AIDS reauthorization bill actually supports and increases the number of references to abstinence and faithfulness education as part of the integrated 'ABC' prevention approach. Yes, it removes the one-third abstinence-only earmark, which was included in the 2003 law over strong Democratic objections, because that restriction has proven to be hampering the effectiveness of programs in the field."
The pro-life, pro-family foes of the draft legislation also told Bush the language would remove a section in the current law that bars HIV/AIDS funds from being granted to a group that does not explicitly oppose prostitution and sex trafficking. In addition, the letter signers protested an increase in donations for the Global Fund from $1 billion to $2 billion. There is "strong evidence" the Global Fund, which receives about one-third of its money from the United States, has funded groups in China known to be involved in that country's coercive one-child population control policy, they said.
While on a trip to Africa, Bush said of PEPFAR Feb. 17 in Tanzania, "Our efforts are really focused on HIV/AIDS and malaria. Since I've been president, the number of antiretrovirals extended to people on the continent of Africa [has] grown from 50,000 to over 1.2 million people.
"My attitude toward Congress is: Look, see what works. PEPFAR is working. It is a balanced program. It is an ABC program: abstinence; be faithful, and condoms."
Tanzania is one of the African countries benefiting from the current PEPFAR plan.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete also said Feb. 17 PEPFAR "is quite useful. There would have been so many orphans to date had it not been for PEPFAR, the care and treatment. So many parents now who have been infected can live. So can you imagine if this program is discontinued or disrupted? There would be so many people who lose hope, and certainly there will be death."Bush said, "I would ask Congress to listen to leaders on the continent of Africa and get the program reauthorized. We don't want people guessing whether or not the generosity of the American people will continue."