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House panel OKs revised AIDS funding

WASHINGTON (BP)–A House of Representatives committee has approved legislation renewing President Bush’s initiative to combat AIDS in Africa after making changes in a version that had produced strong opposition from pro-life and pro-family organizations.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the compromise among Democrat and Republican leaders, as well as the White House, with a voice vote Feb. 27.

The changes came after some Republicans and conservative leaders criticized the reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and more than 40 other pro-life and pro-family leaders wrote President Bush to urge him to oppose the Democratic draft and threaten to veto it.

The legislation approved by the committee includes the following changes, according to reports from pro-life, pro-family advocates:

— Removes “reproductive health” language and some of the most objectionable references to family planning to address pro-life concerns that the draft version would transfer funds to international organizations that perform and promote abortions.

— Mandates balanced funding for the abstinence, be faithful and condoms (ABC) model of fighting AIDS but drops the requirement that 33 percent of the sexual prevention money be spent on abstinence. The new version, however, requires a report to Congress when abstinence and fidelity grants fall short of 50 percent.

— Reinstates a section from the current law that requires grant recipients to have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.

— Adds language calling for transparency by Global Fund, a PEPFAR participant that has been linked to China’s coercive one-child population-control program.

Though some pro-life and pro-family leaders commended the committee’s revisions, caution also was expressed.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is “encouraged by the changes that have taken place in the committee that would keep funding from going to pro-abortion organizations,” Land said, “and we are hopeful that the final version that emerges in Congress will be one we can wholeheartedly support. Things certainly seem to be moving in the right direction.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the new version “is a marked improvement” but promised his organization would “monitor this bill as it continues through the legislative process.”

Though certainly not a pro-lifer, the Democratic leader of the Foreign Affairs Committee expressed similar sentiments. “This bill is not perfect, but no compromise ever is,” said California Rep. Howard Berman, the panel’s acting chairman.

The committee-approved bill greatly expands funds for PEPFAR. It authorizes $50 billion for five years, while Bush had proposed $30 billion, according to Congressional Quarterly.

Bush introduced PEPFAR in 2003 as a pledge of $15 billion over a five-year period to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is the largest international health initiative ever instituted by a single country and set a goal to provide treatment to 2 million HIV-infected people, to prevent 7 million new infections and to support care for 10 million people.

Berman said the program has provided drugs for 1.5 million people and care for nearly 7 million, while blocking infection in about 150,000 infants.
Reported by the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.

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