Bush’s State of the Union Calls for Doubling of Abstinence Program Funding, Does Not Specifically Mention AIDS
President Bush during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night called for the doubling of federal funding for abstinence programs to fight sexually transmitted diseases but did not specifically mention HIV/AIDS, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Sandalow, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/21). Bush said, "To encourage right choices, we must be willing to confront the dangers young people face -- even when they're difficult to talk about. Each year, about three million teenagers contract sexually transmitted diseases that can harm them, or kill them, or prevent them from ever becoming parents. In my budget, I propose a grassroots campaign to help inform families about these medical risks. We will double federal funding for abstinence programs, so schools can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases." He added, "Decisions children now make can affect their health and character for the rest of their lives. All of us -- parents and schools and government -- must work together to counter the negative influence of the culture and to send the right messages to our children" (State of the Union text, 1/20). According to the Washington Post, Bush's proposal would increase abstinence program funding from $80 million a year to more than $270 million in 2005 (Goldstein/Weisman, Washington Post, 1/21).
International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care President and CEO Jose Zuniga said, "[W]e appreciate concern for preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV, but we fear that an overemphasis on abstinence as the only method of prevention could be dangerous," adding, "The grassroots efforts for which the president called should reflect the full scope of what we know about preventing sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinence is one part of the equation, but so too are condoms and safer sex education." Although IAPAC lauded Bush's attention to the country's health care system, Zuniga said that plans mentioned in the address and during the preceeding week may not "be far-reaching enough to bring treatment to the thousands of patients living with HIV who will go without the life-sustaining drugs they need" (IAPAC release, 1/20). AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein said, "There is simply no scientific basis for abstinence-only programs as a substitute for quality sex education in preventing HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. America will pay a terrible price for turning HIV prevention over to the Christian Right as the president seems to want to do" (AHF release, 1/20). James Dobson, founder and chair of Focus on the Family, said, "I am ... pleased that President Bush has unashamedly endorsed abstinence education and programs as the single best way to prevent our children from paying the awful price that sexually transmitted diseases extract from those who are sexually active outside the bounds of marriage. Our children need to hear the life-giving message that abstinence before marriage and monogamy after marriage are the safest and most rewarding expressions of intimate love" (Focus on the Family release, 1/20).
One Year Later
AIDS Action said in a statement, "If our goal is to give every young person the information and tools to remain STD-free and HIV-negative, then our nation must speak frankly and honestly about what will keep our society socially and physically healthy." AIDS Action Executive Director Marsha Martin said that Tuesday's speech "was a missed opportunity to continue the great work President Bush began last year, and to speak only about abstinence and not other scientifically accepted public health interventions for young people (and their adult parents) is a costly omission -- not just in dollars but also in lives" (AIDS Action release, 1/20). Physicians for Human Rights called on Bush to increase funding for his global AIDS initiative, which he unveiled during last year's State of the Union address (PHR release, 1/20). In 2003, Bush announced the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief -- also known as the global AIDS initiative -- which is a five-year, $15 billion program focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and care in some African and Caribbean nations (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/20). PHR U.S. Policy Director Holly Burkhalter said, "Three million people have died since the last State of the Union address. We can't afford to lose any more time on the extraordinary commitment that the President made last January. President Bush needs billions every year to bring life to the AIDS-stricken African continent, leaving no vulnerable person behind" (PHR release, 1/20).
The health policy portion of the president's State of the Union address, including his call to double abstinence funding, is available online from kaisernetwork.org.