Washington, DC – Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, expressed disappointment today at the conduct of some committee Republicans in the course of reauthorizing the successful President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) for another five years.
“The draft of the new global HIV/AIDS reauthorization bill reaffirms Democrats’ commitment to the vast majority of the programs and policies established by the law that my friend Henry Hyde and I wrote in 2003,” Lantos said. “Henry, God rest his soul, joined me and many of our colleagues five years ago in ensuring that a bipartisan bill became law by creating a $15 billion program that has saved countless lives in some of the poorest countries in the world. That legislation included compromises on issues important to those of us who were then in the minority. It is a shame that the current minority is failing to honor this spirit of compromise and is willing to endanger a valuable U.S. foreign policy program addressing one of the most serious health care challenges that humanity faces today.”
The changes being made to the 2003 legislation that have caused the most concern for committee Republicans are the removal an earmark requiring one-third of all prevention funding to go toward abstinence-only education and a provision enabling linkages between Global HIV/AIDS-funded projects and voluntary family planning programs.
“Opponents say the Democratic bill strips out the pro-abstinence and pro-faithfulness values contained in the 2003 law,” Lantos noted. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Facts are driving the reauthorization of the Global HIV/AIDS program, not ideology. The draft global HIV/AIDS reauthorization bill actually supports and increases the number or references to abstinence and faithfulness education as part of the integrated ‘ABC’ prevention approach. Yes, it removes the 1/3 abstinence-only earmark, which was included in the 2003 law over strong Democratic objections, because that restriction has proven to be hampering the effectiveness of programs in the field.”
Within the past year the Government Accountability Office and the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine have completed detailed reports outlining the problems with restricting the funding for prevention program so that one third goes to abstinence-only education. These experts have found that the abstinence-only earmark has forced a reduction in programs preventing transmission of the virus that causes AIDS from mother to child, has reduced prevention efforts with high-risk groups, and has undermined efforts to implement ABC prevention programs.
Lantos also objected to accusations that the Democratic bill will be “tilted toward abortion merchants and promoters” by providing for funding of limited contraception activities under the global HIV/AIDS program. He noted that under the 2003 law, global HIV/AIDS funds are already used for bulk purchases of condoms to stop the transmission of HIV among high-risk populations.
“With this draft legislation, the Committee has clarified that additional contraceptive services may be provided under the law as long as these services are focused on stopping the transmission of HIV/AIDS,” Lantos said. “For instance, this provision will ensure contraceptive assistance to HIV-positive women who wish to delay or prevent a subsequent pregnancy. Do the people objecting to this provision want to stand in the way of a sick woman trying to avoid getting pregnant?”
Lantos also noted that the President’s own 2008 annual report to Congress on the implementation of the global HIV/AIDS program specifically called for “linkages between HIV/AIDS and voluntary family planning programs.”
“Our draft legislation is consistent with the Administration’s own plans for the global HIV/AIDS effort,” he said.
“It is my hope that in the next few days the distortions will cease, and we can reach a compromise as we did five years ago,” Lantos said. “Committee Democrats continue to hope that the global HIV/AIDS reauthorization bill supporting this milestone program conceived by President Bush will be bi-partisan. That is our hope.”
The Committee is scheduled to discuss and vote on the bill at a markup on February 14 at 10:30 a.m.