Conservative groups urged the White House yesterday to repudiate statements Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made during an MTV youth forum that advocated teen-age condom use to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
Calling the statements “reckless and irresponsible,” the groups including the Family Research Council and the Eagle Forum charged that Mr. Powell’s remarks undermine President Bush’s policy of promoting abstinence-based sex education.
“President Bush should publicly exhort Secretary Powell for his irresponsible remarks,” said Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council. “Can you imagine what Powell’s response would have been to a soldier under his command who made public pronouncements contrary to his own?”
The White House and State Department officials maintained there was no difference between Mr. Powell’s stance and that of the Bush administration, which has focused its efforts to prevent sexually transmitted diseases on abstinence.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Mr. Powell did not stray from Mr. Bush’s message and that he was not advising young adults to engage in sexual activity but only to use condoms if they did.
“The president and the secretary are shoulder to shoulder on abstinence education, as well as health education and sex education, as a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and as a way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said at yesterday’s press briefing.
In a global youth forum the cable music channel will broadcast internationally, Mr. Powell said the international community had “to forget about conservative ideas” regarding sex in order to combat the scourge of AIDS, according to a transcript of the program.
“I certainly respect the views of the Holy Father and the Catholic Church,” Mr. Powell said. “In my own judgment, condoms are a way to prevent infection, and therefore I not only support their use, I encourage their use among people who are sexually active and need to protect themselves.
“It is important that the whole international community come together, speak candidly about it, forget about taboos, forget about conservative ideas with respect to what you should tell young people about it,” Mr. Powell continued. “It’s the lives of young people that are put at risk by unsafe sex, and therefore protect yourself.”
The White House comments didn’t do much to allay the concerns of the group’s officials, who said studies show condom use is not 100 percent effective in preventing sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS/HIV.
Leaders of the Eagle Forum said they registered their disapproval with the White House.
“We’re certainly displeased with Mr. Powell’s statements,” said Lori Waters, executive director of the Eagle Forum. “Perhaps Mr. Powell should read studies that show that condoms don’t prevent the spread of HIV. Perhaps he should read the Republican platform on abstinence-only education. His remarks undermine the president.”
James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, also denounced Mr. Powell’s statements.
“Colin Powell is the secretary of state, not the secretary of health,” Mr. Dobson said in a written statement. “He is talking about a subject he doesn’t understand. He clearly doesn’t understand the science regarding condom efficacy.”