In MTV Forum, Powell ‘Strongly Advocates’ Condom Use to Prevent HIV, STDs; Views Anger Conservatives
Secretary of State Colin Powell last night in an MTV international youth forum "strongly advocated" the use of condoms as a means of preventing HIV transmission and other sexually transmitted diseases, "setting himself apart from" President Bush's views on sex education and angering many conservatives who back abstinence-only HIV/AIDS prevention programs, the Washington Post reports (Slevin/Connolly, Washington Post, 2/15). The condom issue was raised by Daniela Satori, a 19-year-old Catholic girl from Milan, Italy, who asked what Powell thought of the Catholic Church's prohibition on condom use as it relates to HIV/AIDS prevention. Powell answered that, while he "certainly respect[s]" the views of the church, in his view "condoms are a way to prevent infection, and therefore, I not only support their use, I encourage their use among people who are sexually active" (Riechmann, AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 2/15). He added, "It is important that the whole international community come together, speak candidly about it, forget about taboos, forget about conservative ideas with respect to what you should tell young people about [sex]" (Associated Press, 2/15).
At Odds With the Boss?
Conservative groups immediately refuted Powell's remarks and criticized him for apparently opposing the Bush administration's support of education initiatives that promote abstinence as the "best option" for preventing STDs and pregnancy (Reuters, 2/15). James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, said Powell's remarks "directly contradict those of his boss, President Bush. ... As one who has distinguished himself in the armed services, surely Mr. Powell must understand the importance of self-control and discipline. ... It is these same traits that can keep young people from HIV infection through abstinence" (Focus on the Family release, 2/14). Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, called Powell's statements "reckless and irresponsible," adding, "Can you imagine what Powell's response would have been to a soldier under his command who made public pronouncements contrary to his own?" Connor called on Bush to "repudiate Secretary Powell's comments and publicly exhort him for his irresponsible remarks" (FRC release, 2/14). American Values president Gary Bauer, a former presidential candidate, also criticized Powell, saying that "regarding public health issues, he should follow the lead of the Bush administration, which he serves." Bauer added that condoms are "no magic bullet. In fact, [they give] very little protection at all" (American Values release, 2/14). However, White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said that Powell's remarks were "consistent" with administration policy because he limited his answer to "people who are sexually active" (Reuters, 2/15). State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher added, "Any attempt to find differences between [Powell] and administration policy is obviously misplaced. He does support the entire policy of the administration, including abstinence education." According to HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce, the administration has issued "no restrictions regarding condoms" but "believes that abstinence education needs to be raised up to an equal level with all other types of health education." AIDS activists praised Powell for his remarks. "We want to salute him and say, 'Bravo!'" Marsha Martin, director of AIDS Action, said, noting that because Powell is a member of the Bush administration, "we are getting perhaps a new message and a welcome message about HIV prevention."
Lowering Drug Prices
Powell last night also said that the administration is working in conjunction with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to persuade drug companies to lower their prices on AIDS drugs. In response to a question from an HIV-positive Brazilian woman, Powell said, "I would like to see [the drugs offered for] free, but as an economic matter, we haven't quite achieved that goal and I'm not sure we will." He added that drug companies "deserve a return" on their investment in research and development (Washington Post, 12/15). NPR's "All Things Considered" also reported on Powell's discussion of condoms and AIDS on MTV. The full segment is available in RealAudio online (Kelemen, "All Things Considered," NPR, 2/14).