Media Should Focus on Bush HIV/AIDS Proposal, Not Position on Abortion in Africa, Washington Post Letter States
The media should focus on a proposal by President Bush to provide long-term treatment to two million HIV/AIDS patients in Africa and the Caribbean, rather than on his position on abortion in Africa, Phil Christenson, assistant administrator of USAID from 1988-1991, writes in a Washington Post letter to the editor. Christenson criticizes a Feb. 23 Post editorial that said "abortion is sometimes a choice of last resort for AIDS patients: A pregnant woman comes into a remote clinic weak with AIDS. The medicine to prevent mother-to-child infant transmission is not available. The pregnancy will weaken her immune system further. Her choices are bleak: her other children orphaned, or an abortion." According to Christenson, the clinics "often run out of drugs and lack clean water and electricity" and most have no physicians. As a result, he writes, the clinics cannot perform abortions on women with HIV/AIDS "without killing them" (Christenson, Washington Post, 3/29). The Feb. 23 Post editorial recommended that the Bush administration not extend the so-called "Mexico City" policy to HIV/AIDS funds under a five-year, $15 billion global HIV/AIDS proposal announced in January. The policy -- first implemented by President Reagan at a population conference in Mexico City in 1984, removed by President Clinton and reinstated by Bush several days into his presidency -- "bars U.S. money from international groups that support abortion, even with their own money, through direct services, counseling or lobbying activities" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/24). Christenson writes that the editorial said that "abortion is appropriate" for HIV-positive pregnant African women because they do not have access to medications that can prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission. However, according to Christenson, only 20% to 30% of children born to women with HIV become infected. He writes, "To abort so many healthy children to prevent a minority from being infected is beyond Kervorkian." Christenson concludes, "Unless abortion cures AIDS, the mother ... still would lack access to medical care for her illness. That is the real problem" (Washington Post, 3/29).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.