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Land, others applaud Bush, offer AIDS effort guidelines

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land and other conservative leaders have commended President Bush for his emergency global initiative against HIV infection and the AIDS virus.

In their recent letter, Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse, Land and 13 others applauded Bush but also set forth six pro-family, pro-life principles that should be part of any United States effort to combat AIDS internationally.

The principles are:

— Prevention programs must emphasize abstinence and fidelity.

— Treatment should be given first to pregnant women and families with children.

— Funds must be withheld from clinics that provide abortions.

— The United States should control the assistance through bilateral agreements rather than depending on international organizations.

— Faith-based organizations ought to be essential in the effort.

— Legal and enforcement steps should be taken to prevent HIV infection through sexual violence.

The president announced the AIDS initiative during his January State of the Union speech. With congressional approval, the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief will provide $15 billion during the next five years to combat AIDS overseas. It is set to begin with $2 million in aid in 2004. The effort will start in 14 African and Caribbean countries, “where the disease is most heavily concentrated,” Bush said in a Jan. 31 speech on the initiative.

Nearly 30 million people in Africa — including 3 million under the age of 15 — have AIDS.

Controversy has greeted, however, the Bush administration’s apparent decision to allow funding for clinics that perform abortions as long as the AIDS work is separated from the abortion business. A State Department memo from Feb. 11 made that recommendation, and both pro-life and pro-choice organizations criticized the move, according to The Washington Times.

“Abortion is not AIDS prevention or treatment, and groups that promote abortion promote a ‘safe sex’ agenda that will not save lives,” the conservative leaders said in their Feb. 27 letter to Bush. “The moral integrity and effectiveness of U.S. global AIDS funding must not be threatened by being permitted to be used to subsidize organizations that perform and promote abortion.”

Abortion-rights organizations contend it is nearly impossible to separate AIDS counseling from abortion counseling, especially in some rural clinics, The Times reported.

In calling for the program to promote abstinence and monogamy primarily, the letter points to Uganda as an example of how to combat HIV and AIDS. “Uganda’s successful ‘ABC’ prevention approach prioritizes abstinence, being faithful to a monogamous partner and only then, condoms,” the letter said. “Ugandans have overwhelmingly responded to this campaign with a dramatic delay in the onset of sexual debut by teens, a reduction in the number of sexual partners and, as a result, an even more dramatic decline in HIV incidence.”

Meanwhile, African countries that have promoted only condoms, such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Botswana, also tend to have the highest rates of HIV infection, the letter said.

In calling for the effort to give priority to pregnant women and families, the letter signers said even $15 billion will fall short of what is needed to help everyone. “Prioritizing treatment for pregnant women and families with children will help alleviate the ever-growing epidemic of AIDS orphans who have lost their parents to HIV and maintain social order,” the letter said. There are 14 million AIDS orphans globally, according to the letter.

Other signers of the letter included Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America; William Bennett, co-director of Empower America and former U.S. secretary of education; Ken Connor, president of Family Research Council; Sam Casey, executive director of Christian Legal Society; Leslee Unruh, president of Abstinence Clearinghouse; and Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals.