WASHINGTON, D.C., May 13, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A group of U.S. representatives are claiming that a new rule regarding HIV funding by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which becomes effective Thursday, undermines U.S. anti-sex trafficking and prostitution efforts.

The representatives argue that the rule will open the floodgates of U.S. taxpayer money to organizations which participate in or deliberately ignore sex trafficking and prostitution.

At a Thursday press conference, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), the author of a landmark U.S. anti-trafficking law and two subsequent anti-trafficking laws, and Rep. Joe Pitts (PA-16), who is also a human rights leader in Congress, spoke out against the new administrative rule, saying it weakens current federal law.

The Congressmen said the HHS rule radically alters the implementation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and guts a legislative provision written by Smith, called the Smith Amendment, which prohibits any overseas organization lacking a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking from getting HIV funding. The Smith Amendment has been standing policy since 2003 after it was approved by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush. 

“The Obama Administration is enabling sex trafficking and prostitution all over the world,” Smith said at a press conference on the East Lawn of the Capitol Building. “We’re going backwards significantly. The brothel owners and operators and sex traffickers want U.S. taxpayer funds. The Administration is practically working hand-in-glove with them.”

The new HHS rule fundamentally alters the implementation of the funding limitation of the “Leadership Act”  [United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2003, Public Law 108-25] which established PEPFAR. Section 301(f) of the law states: “no funds made available to carry out this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, may be used to provide assistance to any group or organization that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.” 

 “I want to end the scourge on AIDS and HIV, too,” said Smith, noting that he and Rep. Pitts were strong supporters of PEPFAR. But the HHS rule, he said, substantially waters down the provisions preventing U.S. funds from going to pro-prostitution or sex trafficking groups in two ways.

First, he said, the rule would significantly weaken the wall of separation required between a recipient of U.S. funding under PEPFAR and an affiliate that engages in activities inconsistent with a policy opposing prostitution and sex trafficking. This enables U.S. monies to flow to organizations that are fundamentally indistinguishable from other organizations that violate the policy by supporting prostitution or sex trafficking. Under the rule, there is the potential that organizations barred from receiving PEPFAR funding could share facilities, staff, legal status, and even bank accounts with organizations receiving funding.

Second, the rule significantly weakens the assurance that a funding recipient would have to demonstrate that the organization is complying with the requirements in section 301(f). Instead of requiring clear certification and documentation demonstrating compliance, as was the case until Thursday, the policy will be reduced to a mere mention in Department notices and inserted as one sentence in documents awarding funding.

Oddly enough, the removal of the certification requirement is purportedly intended to save organizations one half-hour of time, at a cost of $13.22.

Smith noted that some pro-prostitution organizations lobbied heavily for the deletion of section 301(f) during the reauthorization of the Leadership Act in 2008, but Congress did not weaken the provisions.

“I strongly oppose the rule,” Smith said. “The Administration shows it is less concerned with eliminating the human rights violation of sexual exploitation, particularly of women and children, than it is with funding entities that refuse to oppose such exploitation.

“This Administration has decided not to stand up for victims and human rights, and is not adhering to the law, Congressional intent, the official policy of the U.S. Government, or the fundamental principles of the American people.”