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Catholic group says AIDS bill significant step in right direction; Senate should now remove unethical amendments

May 7, 2003

This is not an opportunity to push sectarian religious agendas

Catholics for a Free Choice today applauded the passage of , H.R. 1298, the global AIDS authorization bill, by the US House of Representatives, but expressed serious reservations about questionable amendments that could undermine the effectiveness of the legislation. CFFC urged the US Senate to remove these amendments from the final version of the bill. CFFC sent a letter to that effect to members of the US Senate today. (The letter is available upon request).

“This bill is a very significant advance that shows a genuine US commitment to AIDS prevention and treatment in the world,” said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice. “We applaud the unprecedented bipartisan commitment toward saving lives. However, there are aspects of this bill that are disturbing,” said Kissling. “For example, an amendment offered by Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA) requires one-third of HIV/AIDS prevention funds to promote ‘abstinence until marriage’ programs. Another amendment by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) allows groups that express a ‘moral or religious objection’ to avoid providing comprehensive, accurate information on HIV/AIDS prevention. CFFC stresses the need for a comprehensive approach to HIV/AIDS prevention, including providing sexual education and distributing condoms, promoting women’s rights, providing safe health care, and combating the stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS, ” Kissling said.

Kissling said these unethical amendments should be removed when the bill is marked up by the Senate. “This administration should not play domestic politics when we are faced with an opportunity to save people’s lives in some of the poorest countries in the world,” she said. “As Catholics concerned about social justice, we believe it is imperative that the bill meet international and US standards of medical ethics. No funds should be provided to agencies that do not follow these norms, which include the provision of full information about means to prevent transmission and informed consent of patients. A patient has the right to choose methods that meet his/her conscience and religious beliefs. The belief of the instiutional provider is secondary to that of the patient. The denial of information and services based on moral or religious beliefs of the provider is not acceptable,” she said.

“These harmful amendments should be stricken from the final bill before it is passed by the Senate,” said Kissling. “Those living with HIV/AIDS, some of whom are among the world’s poorest people, should take precedence over moralizing. Saving lives must come first. Lawmakers must realize this legislation is too important to limit treatment approaches and possibilities based on politics. The denial of information and services based on sectarian religious agendas is not acceptable,” Kissling said. “There is too much good in this bill for it to be used for anything other than providing funds based on sound health policy to stem the tide of this deadly and devastating disease around the world,” she said. “We look to the Senate to correct ethical violations in the bill and to pass a bill that meets the norms of health care ethics.”