WASHINGTON (BP)–The heads of leading pro-family organizations have denounced Secretary of State Colin Powell’s recent advocacy of condoms to prevent the transmission of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The White House, meanwhile, has refused to distance itself from Powell’s comments.
Speaking to an international audience on the MTV cable network, Powell said he believes “condoms are a way to prevent infection [from AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases], and therefore I not only support their use, I encourage their use among people who are sexually active and need to protect themselves.”
Powell added he thinks it is important 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.”
Describing himself as “very disappointed” with Powell’s remarks, Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land said, “His argument seems to be: ‘Teenagers should not engage in sex outside marriage, but since we know you are going to, be sure to practice ‘safe sex’ and use condoms.'”
When adult authority figures like Powell make the argument he did, Land said, “It would be the equivalent of adults saying to teenagers, ‘We know you shouldn’t drive at excessive and unsafe speeds and drink alcohol while doing so, but we know you’re going to, so be sure and use your seatbelts and drive cars that have air bags.’
“Responsible adults should be stressing sexual abstinence until marriage,” Land said.
“Using condoms does not guarantee ‘safe sex,’ just slightly less dangerous sex, since condoms are not a guarantee against conception and even less of a guarantee in protecting against sexually transmitted diseases,” said Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
The presidents of Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and American Family Association also denounced Powell’s condom advocacy.
Powell “is the secretary of State, not the secretary of Health,” Focus on the Family President James 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.”
FRC President Ken Connor described Powell’s remarks as “reckless and irresponsible.” Powell “misled millions of young people worldwide” and “literally put young lives at risk,” Connor said in a written release.
“His irresponsible remarks could lead millions of young people to believe that condoms protect against STDs,” Connor said. “They do not. … Telling young people they can engage in sexual conduct and avoid STDs by using condoms is like throwing someone a life preserver in a tidal wave.”
Connor and other critics cited a National Institutes of Health study released in July that showed a lack of evidence condoms provide protection against a majority of STDs. According to FRC, the report said condom use can decrease the risk of HIV infection but has shown no evidence of preventing the transmission of several other STDs, including one that increases the odds of being infected with HIV.
Some critics also referred to the contrasting policies in two African countries beset by HIV/AIDS. Uganda has reduced HIV infection rates by stressing abstinence, while Kenya’s rates have increased despite the distribution of condoms, according to CWA.
Despite requests from such critics to repudiate Powell’s remarks, the White House defended him.
Press secretary Ari Fleischer said Powell addressed the question in the context of sexually active young people. Fleischer said, “[O]bviously, if someone is sexually active, they have already made a decision not to practice abstinence.”
Powell and his wife, Alma, are involved in Best Friends, a Washington-based abstinence program for inner-city young women, Fleischer said in defense of the secretary of State. He also said Powell was seeking to break down the taboos in some African countries that prevent sex education from being discussed.
President Bush and Powell “are shoulder to shoulder on abstinence education, as well as health education and sex education, as a way to prevent” unwanted pregnancies and STDs, Fleischer said.
Critics, however, said the White House’s signals are contradictory. Bush has advocated sexual abstinence, and his Department of Health and Human Services recently announced it would increase funding for abstinence education by $33 million in next year’s budget.
“Saying abstinence is good for those who abstain, but all others should use condoms makes no sense,” FRC’s Connor said. “President Bush’s stated position is that abstinence is the only sure protection against STDs and sex should be saved for marriage. Or is it? … [M]ixed signals raise serious questions.”