Focus on the Family joined 12 pro-life organizations on Tuesday opposing the multi-year renewal of PEPFAR, a federal HIV/AIDS relief program worth billions of dollars, over concerns the program’s funding supports pro-abortion organizations.
Established by former President George W. Bush in 2003, The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) works with government contractors and international organizations to combat the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Congress has three days to decide whether to renew the program’s original five-year contract for the fourth time. Previous extensions enjoyed bi-partisan support because of PEPFAR’s success — the State Department estimates PEPFAR has saved 25 million people from dying of HIV/AIDS-related illnesses in Africa.
This year, however, some pro-life organizations and legislators want explicit pro-life protections included in PEPFAR before Congress gives it another $30 billion.
In 2021, the White House repealed a 2017 law preventing the government from giving global health aid to pro-abortion organizations, calling it:
“(an) undue restriction() on the use of federal funds” that “undermine(d) the US’ effort to advance gender equality globally by restricting our ability to support women’s health and programs that prevent and respond to gender-based bias.”
Now, PEPFAR helps bankroll 26 explicitly pro-abortion international organizations, a Family Research Council report finds, which spent a combined $1.34 billion PEPFAR donations between 2021 and 2022.
Among these organizations are Population Services International (PSI), Village Reach, and Pathfinder International, all of which provide abortions, help start abortion programs in other countries and lobby to weaken pro-life laws. According to an alarming letter from New Jersey Representative Chris Smith to some congressmembers, these three groups received more than a combined $110 million from PEPFAR in two years.
Additionally, two of PEPFAR’s five largest contractors specifically condemned the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in June, claiming it violated women’s rights to “reproductive care” — a phrase pro-abortionists use to encompass abortion. John’s Hopkins affiliate and the PEPFAR’s fifth largest contractor, Jhpiego, went so far as to write:
“The decision today by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning a woman’s right to safe abortion care undermines what Jhpiego has been working toward since our founding—the right of a woman wherever she lives to be…in charge of her sexual and reproductive health.”
Critics of the pro-life position argue pro-abortion organizations don’t use PEPFAR money to directly perform abortions, but “there is no meaningful oversight or accountability to back up that claim,” Arielle Del Turco, Director for the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, writes.
Even if PEPFAR doesn’t directly support abortions, donations to run unrelated programs at pro-abortion organizations frees up funds that organizations can use to beef-up abortion programs. Pro-lifers argue this indirect support of abortion is also unacceptable.
What’s more, government documents sketching out PEPFAR’s future the government will use the program to bolster organizations and shape legislation making abortion legal and accessible.
These intentions are broadly outlined in the government’s 2022 plan for “Reimagining PEPFAR,” which connects the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS relief with “ sexual reproductive health, rights and services” and promises to coordinate with “other U.S. government global health and development programs” for “sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
It’s unclear why the government believes abortion access will help HIV/AIDS treatment — the two are unrelated. In fact, some argue PEPFAR should further emphasize traditionally conservative, pro-life values — like abstinence and personal responsibility — to stop of HIV/AIDS, which spreads faster outside of mutually monogamous relationships.
PEPFAR’s 2023 Operational Plan explains PEPFAR will work “with organizations advocating for structural systemic and institutional reforms in law and policy regarding sexual, reproductive and economic services for women.”
Even excluding the enormous moral implications of supporting pro-abortion legislation, American tax-payer dollars should not be used to shape policy that is hotly contested in domestic politics.
PEPFAR is a worthy program that has saved many lives — it shouldn’t be reduced to a vehicle for the government to bolster its pro-abortion social agenda. To ensure PEPFAR continues to be pro-life, explicit protections against funding abortions should be adopted before the program is renewed.
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