By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

  February 29, 2008 ( – Pro-family forces in the U.S. House of Representatives hammered out an agreement on Wednesday to maintain abstinence education programs in a bill to extend President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has been credited with effectively reducing the rate of HIV transmission in Africa during its five year existence.

  Programs that prioritize abstinence education have been very successful in Africa, in one case reducing teen pregnancy by 61 percent.  In Uganda, where such programs have been used for years, HIV infection rates have fallen from 15% to under 5%.

  The new bill extends the PEPFAR program beyond its previous expiration date set for this year, and more than triples its budget, increasing it to $10 billion annually for the next five years, and requires a “balanced” approach that includes teaching abstinence, marital fidelity, monogamy, delaying sexual debut, and reducing numbers of sexual partners.

  The original PEPFAR was controversial among social liberals because it required that one third of the money be spent on programs that teach abstinence as the most effective way to avoid HIV and AIDS.  In the current bill House Democrats attempted to remove abstinence education requirements and restrictions that disallow funding for groups involved in prostitution.  The compromise bill eliminates those changes.

  The new PEPFAR drops the one-third funding requirement for abstinence-only programs,and substitutes this requirement with a more general one that states that program coordinators will provide “balanced funding for activities for sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS and shall ensure that behavior change programs, including abstinence, delay of sexual debut, monogamy, fidelity and partner reduction, are implemented and funded in a meaningful and equitable way in the strategy for each host country.”

  If a coordinator waives the requirement, by spending less than 50 percent of funds to promote abstinence approaches, he must issue a special report to Congress explaining why. Under the previous PEPFAR regime the one-third abstience funding requirement was sometimes waived, but no report was required.

  Opponents of abstinence education were happy with the huge increase in funding for the international AIDS establishment, which is largely devoted to condom distribution and “sexual education” that tends to legitimize extramarital sexual relations.  However, they were discouraged by the fact that a portion of the funding would continue to go to abstinence education.

  Scott Swenson, writing for the liberal, pro-abortion website “Reproductive Health Reality Check” called the abstinence education provisions “bad news” and wrote, “The abstinence earmark is gone, but the tone set by the new requirement is easily misinterpreted by the time these restrictions get to the field level, especially on the heels of the abstinence-only earmark under which these providers have been working.”

  Although Swensen claims that there is no evidence to show the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs, Rep. Chris Smith, in a recent house floor speech, quoted a joint statement by the U.S. Department of State, USAID, and Health and Human Resources, who said that “Congressional directives have helped focus U.S. Government (USG) prevention strategies to be evidence-based.  Because of the data, ABC is now recognized as the most effective strategy to prevent HIV in generalized epidemics.” “ABC” stands for “Abstinence, Be Faithful, use a Condom”, prioritizing the first two options.

  Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said that the legislation was “not perfect” but seemed tentatively satisfied with the results. “I applaud the House Foreign Affairs Committee for passing an HIV/AIDS bill free of troubling provisions contained in earlier drafts. Previous drafts would have funded international abortion groups, undermined abstinence and faithfulness programs, removed an anti-sex trafficking provision, harmed faith-based groups and would have done nothing to require transparency in the Global Fund. This bill is a marked improvement and is aimed at protecting life, not destroying it.”

  Related coverage:

  Abstinence Program Making Huge Impact in Africa: 61 Percent Reduction in Teen Pregnancy

  New U.S. Government Health Department Study Confirms Abstinence Education Effective

  Ugandan Anti-AIDS Activist Demands UN Fire Lewis For Pushing Condoms