Bush Administration Policies on Sex Education, Funding for AIDS Groups ‘Hampering’ Anti-AIDS Efforts, Organizations Say
Through government audits of AIDS groups, the "aggressive promotion" of abstinence-only sex education programs and other initiatives, the Bush administration is "waging a widespread campaign of disinformation and intimidation that is hampering" HIV/AIDS prevention efforts and placing people at risk of contracting HIV, according to several organizations, the Washington Post reports. Representatives from Advocates for Youth, Gay Men's Health Crisis and Human Rights Watch yesterday criticized President Bush's request to boost funding for abstinence-only sex education programs to $135 million and recent audits by HHS of several AIDS groups that receive federal funding for HIV prevention programs (Washington Post, 10/1). The request involved in Bush's fiscal year 2003 budget proposal represents a 30% increase (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/4). Human Rights Watch recently issued a report stating that abstinence-only sex education programs are threatening the health of young people by excluding information on condom use and other methods of preventing HIV transmission (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/19). Meanwhile, HHS is reviewing the federal funding for more than a dozen AIDS organizations, many of which participated in a demonstration against HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson during the XIV International AIDS Conference held in July in Barcelona, Spain (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/19). The advocates also note that the CDC has removed from its Web site information explaining the "effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission" and a section summarizing several "proven" comprehensive sex education programs (Meckler, AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 9/30). All of these recent actions, critics say, indicate that HHS is "driven more by conservative ideology than science" on the issues of sex education and AIDS. "Whenever AIDS educators are repressed and harassed and kept from doing their jobs, the epidemic is the big winner. Whenever moral judgmentalism and squeamishness are judged by politicians to be more important than preventing a life-threatening catastrophe, the epidemic is the winner," Joanne Csete, director of HIV/AIDS programs at Human Rights Watch, said (Washington Post, 10/1). "It's a campaign to censor science and research, and it's a campaign to use government auditors to intimidate opponents of the administration on key policy issues," Advocates for Youth President James Wagoner said (Meckler, AP/Nando Times, 9/30).
Administration Denies 'Singling Out' Groups
HHS Deputy Secretary Claude Allen denied that there is any effort within the administration to "single out" organizations that advocate comprehensive sex education and promote condom use. Allen said the administration believes that "young people across the board should abstain until marriage" and that fidelity is "the next-safest protection against contraction of disease." If both of these methods fail, condom use is the third way to protect against sexually transmitted diseases, Allen said. Allen noted that the audits of the AIDS organizations were requested by several members of Congress and that HHS is "obligated under law" to conduct them. He noted that the audits focus more on management performance overall than on "any single group," adding that the purpose of the reviews is to find "the best science to resolve and address the issue of HIV/AIDS" and STDs. But AIDS groups and advocates of comprehensive sex education say that by promoting abstinence and excluding information about condom use, federal health officials are rejecting the advice of the CDC and the Institute of Medicine -- both of which have advocated comprehensive sex education -- and placing the health of young people at risk. By failing to teach young people about condoms, officials are "censoring and distorting potentially life-saving information about how to prevent" HIV and other STDs, Rebecca Schleifer, an HIV/AIDS researcher at Human Rights Watch, said (Washington Post, 10/1).