Abstinence for Africa
Michelle Goldberg printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Dec 07, 2005 at 04:51:34 PM EST

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We all know how the Bush administration has pushed Christian right policies at home, but many of the most devastating effects of the delegation of public policy to the James Dobson lobby are being felt abroad, especially when it comes to sexual health.
Bush has withheld tens of millions of dollars from the United Nations Population Fund because of discredited accusations from a hard-right Catholic group that the UN agency supports coerced abortions in China. As a result, maternal health clinics have had to close worldwide. In November, Bush expanded the global gag rule -- which denies U.S. family planning funding to any organization that performs abortions, counsels about them or refers women to abortion services -- to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts.

Then, this week, Bush once again increased the role of religious groups in America's global AIDS prevention policy.  According to a story on the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare policy, "Faith-based organizations worldwide will play a major role in fighting the AIDS and HIV epidemic under a new initiative announced by President George W. Bush. The 'New Partners Initiative,' outlined by the President during World AIDS day last week, will also seek to build partnerships with overseas organizations that have little or no experience in working with the United States government...The initiative will provide $200 million through fiscal year 2008 for technical and capacity-building assistance that will help such organizations compete for future program grants."

Understand what this means. The reason these faith-based organizations haven't been able to compete for grants is largely because of their lack of infrastructure and experience. Plenty of other groups have both those things, but we're not funding them because they promote safer sex as well as abstinence. The Roundtable story quotes a statement by the Pan-African Treatment Access Movement (PATAM), a coalition of health groups in several African nations:

Under pressure from the American program 'PEPFAR,' [President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] certain African countries have begun, little by little, to adopt a strategy through which the message 'abstinence and faithfulness' is advocated as the only way of preventing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, to the detriment of the universal promotion of the condom which remains to this day the most efficient means of protection against HIV transmission...

We denounce the ideology which governs the Washington program against AIDS (PEPFAR) and which is being imposed in our countries. Instead of contributing positively to the fight against AIDS in our countries, this program will breed serious prejudices and will cause, without doubt, a large number of infections which would otherwise have not taken place.

I've heard similar concerns from African health workers at U.N. conferences. Meanwhile, America's U.N. delegations are increasingly given over to the Christian right -- it's an easy way for the administration to placate the movement without many outsiders noticing. Recent official U.S. delegates to U.N. conferences on women and children have included Janet Parshall, the Christian radio broadcaster, Paul Bonicelli, former dean of academic affairs at Patrick Henry College, and Concerned Women for America's Janice Crouse. These people work tirelessly to scuttle any initiatives that would expand women's access to reproductive health care. (Ironically, they often end up partnering with hard-line Muslim fundamentalists to do so).

Anyone interested in reading about the real-world results of these policies should check out Helen Epstein's phenomenal story about U.S.-based abstinence initiatives in Uganda, which was published in April in the New York Review of Books. As she details, that country's hugely successful approach to HIV-prevention is being undermined by the growing influence of the religious right -- a situation that gets way too little coverage in the U.S.

It raises the question : what do we say of  Christian faith when it is expressed as extreme ideological positions that result in mass death and suffering ?

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Dec 07, 2005 at 05:59:10 PM EST

A quote from an article in today's Baptist Press:

A senior research scientist with the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies once advocated the use of condoms and clean needles for the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS. Now, after evaluating the ABC Model of AIDS prevention championed in Uganda, Edward Green says promoting the values of fidelity and abstinence is far more effective than just promoting correct condom use.

by Carlos on Wed Dec 07, 2005 at 07:27:05 PM EST
As far as I know, many public health experts support promoting abstinence and fidelity in conjunction with condoms, and that model has worked in Uganda. The problem is that now the story of what happened in Uganda is being rewritten by the right to suggest that condom use isn't integral to HIV prevention for most people -- rather, the abstinence-only lobby sees condoms as only a last resort for high-risk groups like prostitutes, and not something that needs to be accessible to everyone.

by Michelle Goldberg on Wed Dec 07, 2005 at 10:12:37 PM EST

"...Edward Green says promoting the values of fidelity and abstinence is far more effective than just promoting correct condom use."

The key word here is just.  Nowhere in this statement does it say that abstinence education alone is best... it says to me that when you add abstinence alongside proper condom use, you get better results than just proper condom use alone...

But of course, the Religious Right will interpret it as abstinence only works...

Personally, I went to a high school that had a "combo approach" to sex ed.  Our teacher explained that the only 100% guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy and STDs (including HIV) was to not have sex.  Then we went on to - well, if you're still going to insist on having sex, then we don't want you to be stupid about it... here's all of your protection options, including how to "properly install and use" a condom. (we got to practice putting them on banannas)  

To me, the discussion was valuable even for those students who would be abstinent during their high school years, because it meant that when you were an adult and making sexual decisions, that you were educated.  You could wait until you were married to have sex - and the information was still valid, because you could use the birth control information for family planning.


by EmilyWynn8 on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 03:25:14 PM EST

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