a bird and a bottle

And They Call This Pro-Life?


As Jill has written, the pro-life (anti-choice) agenda is only pro-life if it fits their politics. And if you’re not a woman who has sex.

You might think I’m crazy, but I don’t think that President Bush’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) is all that pro-life. Stay with me here. Yes, the program has done some great things thus far, but in its later stages is where the politics of “life” comes into play. And it’s not pretty.

The NY Times reports today in an Editorial that the program’s early stages, which have been focused on scaling up AIDS treatment, have been fairly successful. That’s certainly good news, particularly for the African countries that receive the bulk of PEPFAR’s funding and are bearing the brunt of the world’s AIDS epidemic.

But, as the Times points out, in the long term it’s AIDS prevention programs that are going to have the biggest and longest lasting impact. And that’s where the “pro-life” agenda comes in.

Programs to prevent the spread of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, are perhaps the most important tool in that long-term fight. Yet Congress specified that only 20 percent of the money could be spent on prevention, and one-third of that had to be used to promote abstinence until marriage. More money has been spent in that area than on other prevention activities, including distribution of condoms and blocking mother-to-child transmission.

What this means is that of all of the PEPFAR grants, a relatively small amount is going toward programs that prevent transmission of HIV through sexual activity. And of that small amount, much of it is going to support abstinence only programs.

PEPFAR’s website reports that the program has done a lot to prevent sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS:

Supported community outreach activities to nearly 61.5 million people to prevent sexual transmission.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? 61.5 million people have learned to prevent HIV transmission through sex. Only problem is, they haven’t really. All they’ve learned is that the American right believes that abstinence is the only way and to hell with all those others (the vast majority of people) who choose to have sex. But despite this message, people still have sex. They just haven’t been taught how to do it safely. As Advocates for Children reports, abstinence only programs have been unsuccessful in the U.S.:

Evaluation of these 11 programs [in the U.S.] showed few short-term benefits and no lasting, positive impact. A few programs showed mild success at improving attitudes and intentions to abstain. No program was able to demonstrate a positive impact on sexual behavior over time.

Abstinence only programs, the choice of the “pro-life” crew and, not surprisingly, Bush’s PEPFAR, just don’t work. Instead of taking a pragmatic approach, which would support abstinence but teach people how to prevent HIV when they do have sex should they choose to do so, PEPFAR says ‘don’t have sex. And if you do, it’s at your own risk.’

To teach this to teenagers in the U.S. is irresponsible. To use it is an HIV prevention tactic is unconscionable.

Yet it’s the favored approach of the “pro-lifers.” Go figure.


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