Letters to Editor Respond to Opinion Piece Addressing Debate Over PEPFAR, Family Planning Services
The Washington Post on Friday published two letters to the editor written in response to a March 12 Post opinion piece by columnist Michael Gerson, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Gerson in the opinion piece wrote that the original legislation authorizing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief included a compromise that "separated AIDS relief from the partisan debate over abortion." He added that the original PEPFAR bill focused funding on the ABC approach -- which stands for practice abstinence, be faithful and use condoms. Earlier this year during PEPFAR reauthorization hearings, the compromise "seemed to be unraveling" as some congressional Democrats called for more family planning within HIV/AIDS programs, which a "number of conservatives interpreted as a push for abortion rights," Gerson wrote.
He added that instead, lawmakers had a "last-minute, late-night outbreak of sanity" and "chose ... to skirt the abortion issue. Republicans kept a provision" that requires PEPFAR recipients to pledge opposition to commercial sex work, and Democrats "achieved an $11 billion increase in AIDS funding," as well as an "end" to the requirement that at least one-third of HIV prevention funds that focus countries receive through PEPFAR be used for abstinence-until-marriage programs, according to Gerson. Gerson noted that some conservatives oppose the increase in PEPFAR funding and that some liberal advocates want to address the abortion issue on the "theory that aggressive" family planning is necessary to prevent the spread of HIV (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/12). Summaries of the letters appear below.
- Linda Bales: Although it is "heartening" that Gerson addressed PEPFAR reauthorization, his "equating 'aggressive family planning' with abortion is appalling, if not dangerous" to people who "want to prevent the spread of AIDS and plan their families responsibly," Bales, director of United Methodist General Board of Church & Society's Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project, writes. Bales adds that any "notion that family planning is really just abortion is false" (Bales, Washington Post, 3/21).
- Kate Bourne: The "idea" that the U.S. does not "need to redouble" its HIV prevention efforts "divorces logic from reality," Bourne, vice president of international policy and regional programs at the International Women's Health Coalition, writes. Bourne writes that some government agencies have estimated that the "addition of family planning services" to PEPFAR programs "could double the effectiveness" of programs aimed at preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission. She concludes that family planning services for HIV-positive women were "sacrificed on the altar of political expediency" during the PEPFAR reauthorization hearings (Bourne, Washington Post, 3/21).