House Minority Leader Boehner Says Proposed Democratic Changes to PEPFAR Would ‘Undermine’ Program
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing to reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief said some Democratic proposals that would remove abstinence spending requirements and mandatory pledges against commercial sex work would "undermine" PEPFAR and place the program's work "at risk," the AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune reports (Abrams, AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2/7).
The reauthorization draft bill would remove a current requirement that at least one-third of HIV prevention funds that focus countries receive through PEPFAR be used for abstinence-until-marriage programs. It also would revoke a requirement that PEPFAR recipients pledge opposition to commercial sex work in order to receive funding (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/4). Some Republicans also say that the draft bill would remove rules that allow family planning groups to receive PEPFAR money for HIV/AIDS programs only if the money is not spent on abortion (AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2/7).
In addition, the bill would allocate $50 billion for PEPFAR over the next five years. President Bush has called on Congress to authorize a $30 billion, five-year extension of PEPFAR (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/4). The committee is scheduled to vote on the $50 billion reauthorization bill on Feb. 14, the AP/Star Tribune reports.
Committee Chair Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) said the Democratic proposals reaffirm a compromise made by Republicans and Democrats when they approved the original PEPFAR bill in 2003. Lantos added that Boehner and other Republicans are "failing to honor the spirit of the compromise" and that they are "willing to endanger a valuable U.S. foreign policy program addressing one of the most serious health care challenges that humanity faces today."
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) at a news conference said that changes concerning funding for family planning groups would "transform the program into a megafunding pool for organizations with an abortion-promotion agenda." Lantos said the Bush administration has endorsed the connection between family planning and HIV/AIDS programs, adding that the draft bill clarifies that additional contraceptive services can be provided by law as long as the services are focused on curbing the spread of HIV. Lantos spokesperson Lynne Weil said the bill bolsters the "conscience clause" that permits faith-based groups to opt out of any program because of moral objections (AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2/7).
President Bush's "thinking" in regard to PEPFAR "needs a real-world adjustment," a San Francisco Chronicle editorial says, adding that the administration's "insistence on abstinence programs and a ban on treatment for [sex workers] is more hindrance than help and a bow to his religious conservative base."
The Chronicle notes that a 2006 General Accounting Office study found that "abstinence teachings were a confusing imposition" on HIV prevention efforts. The U.S. through PEPFAR "has made a praiseworthy and bipartisan start on containing" HIV/AIDS, the editorial says, concluding that it is "time to widen the fight both overseas and at home" (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/7).