Fundamentalist Catholics seem determined to save souls without saving lives. But the elected representatives of the American should not be following suit.
Today, the US House of Representatives discusses a bill that will take US$ 50 billion out of taxpayers’ pockets and put it on the table for HIV treatment for people in poor countries. There’s some prevention in the new PEPFAR bill, too, though we’re still not allowed to use the money effectively to make life safer for people who inject drugs or sell sex. The new bill will increase the amount of money we can spend preventing HIV infected women passing the virus on to their infants (that cost US taxpayers US$ 195 million in 2007 alone). But not one cent will be available for services or advice that would prevent those women getting pregnant in the first place.
Why not? Apparently, because of aggressive lobbying on the part of an increasingly vocal anti-conctraception movement in Washington. The original draft bill reauthorising PEPFAR recognised that reproductive health services and HIV prevention should go hand in hand in countries where HIV is spread mostly in non-commercial sex between men and women (in other words in all of East and Southern Africa, and some of West Africa too). (see the draft text here). Then the Fundamentalists stuck their oar in. By the time the bill got through the House Foreign Affairs Committee, no PEPFAR money could be used to provide contraceptive advice or services for couples with HIV (though they may still get some condoms for disease prevention.
The hyper-conservative Family Research Council was one of the groups lobbying for the change, and FRC President Tony Perkins crowed about the victory in a press release:
“This bill is a marked improvement and is aimed at protecting life, not destroying it. …I especially applaud Rep. Chris Smith for his tireless work to ensure that PEPFAR does not create new family planning programs to fund international abortion groups.”
On their own website, FRC are even more explicit:
“Additionally the bill removes the “reproductive health” references that the Democratic majority was trying to insert.”
American Christians ranting about abortion is hardly stop-the-presses stuff. But there’s a not-so-subtle slide in the rhetoric these days: in the minds of the Hard Core, contraception is now equivalent to abortion. Pro-life is becoming anti-contraception, and no amount of common sense commentary seems to make any difference. If the good pastors of the United States wish to have no sex or large families, rah rah for them. But Congress should not allow them to impose their obsessions on the rest of the world. The current PEPFAR bill will do just that.
If you have any doubts about the move to smush contraception together with abortion into one big, evil, liberal, feminazi assault on what is Good and Right, take a minute and a half to look at this: