Global Gag Rule Poses Moral Challenge for U.S. HIV Funding

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Global Gag Rule Poses Moral Challenge for U.S. HIV Funding

Marjorie Signer

Faith-based organizations representing a broad spectrum of religions call on our government to reauthorize PEPFAR without ideological restrictions on funding.

This article was originally published at On the Issues Magazine.

The pending reauthorization of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan
for AIDS Relief, commonly called PEPFAR, is a clear challenge for our
government to demonstrate its commitment to human dignity and life.

PEPFAR would be expanded dramatically by legislation, S 2731,
now before the Senate and already passed by the U.S. House of
Representatives (and with the long name of "The Tom Lantos and Henry J.
Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis,
and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008, H.R. 5501").

Funding would be tripled to $50 billion over the next five years.
While the increased funding is a tremendous step forward, the House
version also contains ideological restrictions that will prevent the
funds from most effectively containing the spread of HIV by blocking
the participation of family planning programs.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
and our partners in the interfaith community are urging the Senate to
hear the voices of people of faith on the issue of AIDS relief. These
are people from diverse traditions who share common principles of
justice and compassion and the belief that we have a moral responsibility
to help the vulnerable and the sick to the full extent of our ability.

Simply put, we want PEPFAR to be reauthorized and we welcome the
increased funds — but we want language restricting the participation
of family planning organizations to be removed.

This language requires that organizations must comply with the
global gag rule — the requirement that foreign organizations receiving
U.S. funding must not provide abortion counseling or services or
conduct advocacy on abortion policy. We believe that an ethical policy
will support the best and most flexible approaches possible to contain
the spread of HIV. Experience shows that involving family planning
organizations will ensure the greatest level of access to information
and services for women and girls.

We also are concerned by an onerous reporting provision in the bill
that would require Congress to be informed when countries with
generalized epidemics fall below 50 percent of funds spent on
abstinence and fidelity programs. Instead of promoting programs that
allow for flexibility and are tailored to the needs of individual
communities, the new reporting policy will restrict delivery of
comprehensive and integrated information.

Those involved in our community response on PEPFAR include 26
Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, ecumenical and
interfaith agencies and bodies. We are actively reaching out to our constituencies to underscore that this issue involves our faith commitments, including our commitment to action for social justice.

HIV and AIDS have had devastating consequences throughout the
developing world – consequences that can be prevented by empowering the
most vulnerable populations with proven prevention strategies.

The United States launched PEPFAR in 2003 as the largest investment
ever made by any nation to combat a single disease. PEPFAR has
successfully brought AIDS treatment, care and HIV prevention to
millions of people who would not otherwise have had services. But
constraints on prevention and care are contrary to the authentic moral
concerns of the American public for those suffering from HIV/AIDS. The
religious and religiously affiliated organizations opposing these
constraints have pointed out that they directly affect women, youth,
and socially marginalized groups – those who increasingly bear the
greatest burden of this pandemic and who often receive medical care
mainly or only from family planning organizations.

It is our moral duty to challenge our government to adopt the most
effective, humane and just policy to contain the HIV/AIDS pandemic,
without ideological restrictions and constraints.

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And check out all of Rewire’s PEPFAR coverage here