For the first time in a decade, the number of new AIDS cases is declining in sub-Saharan Africa. The Boston Globe speculated that this might be due to better prevention.
Of course it is, and the reason for this good news is the abstinence-first program promoted aggressively by the government of Uganda. In that country the infection rate—because of abstinence—has been lowered from 30 to 10 percent in the last ten years. Studies show that Ugandans are having fewer sexual partners and practicing fidelity. Now other African countries are beginning to implement the same model zealously advocated by Trans World Radio. And it’s paying off.
Never before in history has there been a plague that could be stopped. But this one can be. And we must act. This Friday, the president’s plan to provide 15 billion dollars to stop the AIDS epidemic in Africa comes to a vote in the United States Senate. It is crucial that you call your senators and urge them to support the president’s plan.
Two weeks ago, a dozen leaders were invited for a discussion with President Bush about the AIDS package. At that meeting Franklin Graham, Cardinal McCarrick, and I applauded the president’s great leadership, and we encouraged him to fight for amendments that would restore something that had been stricken out in the House committee—that is, abstinence first as a priority and a conscience clause. The president said he strongly favored this and sent his assistants to Capitol Hill to urge Congress to do just that.
To my amazement, the House reversed its own committee and adopted the president’s bill with those amendments providing a conscience clause so Christian groups would not have to distribute condoms and putting abstinence first. We owe a debt of gratitude to the president for his leadership and to Representatives Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), and Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).
That is the bill that will be debated in the Senate Friday. We expect an effort by Senate liberals to strip out the abstinence-first amendment and the conscience clause. We must not let this happen.
The bill must pass as it is.
First of all, it is a tremendous humanitarian effort. As I told the president, we as a nation, and he as president, will one day be judged by how well we have met the needs of suffering people.
And the consequences of not doing this could be catastrophic. Think of the political, economic, and social instability that this epidemic can create. African governments hold on by a pretty tenuous grip. This could push several of them over the edge.
And who’s standing in the wings waiting to take over? Radical Islam. This fight is going on at this very moment in Nigeria and in other countries across Africa. We are in what Samuel Huntington calls a "clash of civilizations." We cannot afford to lose Africa.
Please call and ask your senators to oppose any amendments that would strip the conscience clause and the abstinence-first clause from this bill. Ask them to support the president’s initiative and pass the bill as it has come over from the House.
You can call us here at BreakPoint (1-877-3-CALLBP) or check http://www.breakpoint.org/ for daily status reports on the bill’s progress.
For humanitarian reasons—as a great nation with a Christian heritage of caring for "the least of these"—and for compelling strategic reasons, we must pass the president’s bill. As faithful believers, we can do no less than work for this bill.
Urge your two senators to pass an AIDS bill identical to the House version that puts abstinence first and provides a conscience clause for faith-based organizations. The Capitol switchboard is 1-202-224-3121.
For further reading and information:
John Donnelly, "HIV rate may be declining in Africa," Boston Globe, May 11, 2003.
Read BreakPoint’s fact sheet "A Responsible Approach to a Global AIDS Policy" for talking points to use when calling your senators or writing letters-to-the-editor of newspapers.
Read more about President Bush’s HIV/AIDS Initiatives.
BreakPoint Commentary No. 030430, "Africa’s AIDS Crisis: The Response of a Compassionate Conservative."
BreakPoint Commentary No. 020102, "The Honey That Kills: Combating AIDS with the Gospel."
William J. Bennett and Charles W. Colson, "Africa’s AIDS Crisis," Washington Times, April 29, 2003.
Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein, "House Passes $15 Billion AIDS Bill," Washington Post, May 2, 2003, A01.
The aWAKE Project: Uniting against the African AIDS Crisis (W Publishing, 2002) is a collection of stories and essays geared toward educating and mobilizing Americans to help with the AIDS crisis in Africa.
Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Touchstone, 1998).