- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

The House passed a bill yesterday that promotes abstinence in fighting AIDS worldwide and prevents religious groups from being forced to distribute condoms, handing a major victory to conservatives.The bill, which passed by a vote of 375-41, takes up an initiative pushed by President Bush in his State of the Union Address in January to spend $15 billion over the next five years on AIDS prevention, mostly in Africa and the Caribbean.The bill includes an amendment proposed by Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, that one-third of the money must be used to promote sexual abstinence — a measure that Democrats defeated in the International Relations Committee but couldn’t stop when brought to the House floor.”Some people are afraid to take a moral stand,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said in a rare appearance during legislative debate. “This entire bill is a moral crusade to save an entire continent from the plague of AIDS.”The White House released a statement within minutes of passage, applauding what Mr. Bush called “historic legislation.”“The fight against AIDS is a moral imperative our great nation must confront decisively and boldly,” Mr. Bush said. “Time is of the essence, and I urge the Senate to act quickly so that we can turn the tide against this disease and give the hope of life to millions of people in the world’s most afflicted countries.”The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not yet taken up this matter, and Republican House legislative aides said they hoped the Senate would just bring the House version of the bill to the floor for a vote.Another amendment added to the bill yesterday strengthened language ensuring that groups objecting to condom distribution on religious grounds still would receive federal funds to help carry out their missions.Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, said he offered the amendment to protect Catholic charities, which treat 25 percent of AIDS patients in sub-Saharan Africa.Mr. Smith told lawmakers from the floor about an unnamed Catholic doctor who worked to help sick Africans for 31 years, then was denied federal aid money when he refused to include condom distribution among the services he provided.”Those who are harmed the most are those who are suffering the most,” Mr. Smith said.The provision was opposed by most Democrats, who opposed favoring the three-pronged AIDS prevention program called “ABC” — abstinence, being faithful, and condoms, in that order. They want doctors and health officials to use any mixture of the three options.”Some organization will use this clause to undermine other effective HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment methods, including distribution of condoms,” said Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat and ranking member of the House International Relations Committee. “We should not use federal funds to tell people in Uganda to not use condoms because they are morally wrong.”The bill’s passage also was praised by several private organizations dedicated to AIDS education and prevention.”With this overwhelming vote, the House sends a message of hope to Africa that America will help the 30 million people with AIDS,” said Jamie Drummond, executive director of DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade in Africa), a group founded by rock star Bono of the band U2.Kate Carr, president of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, said she was pleased the bill passed yesterday, but thought it was better before it was amended.”We were really hoping that the Pitts amendment would not be included,” Mrs. Carr said. “We’d rather see a more flexible approach.”


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