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African officials urge Congress to ensure HIV/AIDS funding isn’t supporting abortion

African leaders are seeking assurances that U.S. funding to combat HIV/AIDS isn’t being funneled to promote abortion under the Biden administration.

More than 100 African governmental and church officials urged Congress to ensure that the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, remains “true to its original mission” by respecting “our norms, traditions, and values.”

The $6 billion foreign-assistance program launched by President George W. Bush in 2003 has drawn renewed attention this year as it comes up for reauthorization. 

“As you now seek to reauthorize PEPFAR funding, we want to express our concerns and suspicions that this funding is supporting so-called family planning and reproductive health principles and practices, including abortion, that violate our core beliefs concerning life, family, and religion,” said the June 6 letter led by Alban Bagbin, speaker of the Parliament of Ghana.

They noted that the program’s original strategy “respected our values and focused PEPFAR on protecting and preserving life and emphasizing abstinence and responsible behavior and practices.”

“We ask that those partner organizations with whom the U.S. government partners to implement PEPFAR programs in ways that are cognizant and respectful of our beliefs and not cross over into promoting divisive ideas and practices that are not consistent with those of Africa,” the African leaders said.

Their letter follows the State Department’s release of “Reimagining PEPFAR’s Strategic Direction: Fulfilling America’s Promise to End the AIDS/HIV Pandemic by 2030,” a report that calls for integrating the HIV program with areas such as “sexual reproductive health.”

The report issued in September also commits to partnering with U.S. organizations on priorities including “sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

Sounding the alarm was Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican, who fired off a “Dear Colleague” letter last week warning that “President Biden has hijacked PEPFAR … in order to promote abortion on demand.”

U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkengasong rejected the assertion, saying at an event in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday that “PEPFAR has never, will not ever, use that platform in supporting abortion,” according to Devex International Development. 

Mr. Smith, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, said that any multi-year reauthorization legislation must include anti-abortion language.

“Twenty years ago, PEPFAR was enacted to put a tourniquet on the HIV/AIDS pandemic — and in 2018, I was the prime sponsor of the bill enacted into law to reauthorize PEPFAR for five more years — the program has saved millions of lives,” Mr. Smith said in the June 6 letter. “Yet, the noble goals of PEPFAR must not now — or ever — be compromised by integrating the promotion of abortion.” 

He accused non-governmental organizations working in Africa that receive PEPFAR funding of plugging abortion, citing Pathfinder International, which he said collected $5 million over the last two years and “lobbies to weaken or eliminate pro-life laws in nations around the world.”

Pathfinder denied using PEPFAR to promote abortion, saying the funding is used on HIV-related services such as antiretroviral therapy, HIV testing, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and tuberculosis. 

“If PEPFAR is not reauthorized, millions of people will suffer, and the HIV pandemic will surge in multiple countries,” said Pathfinder in a June 8 statement. “Pathfinder calls for the reauthorization of PEPFAR to continue fighting the HIV pandemic and save lives.”

Mr. Biden has already lifted restrictions on abortion access abroad. He rescinded in January 2021 the Mexico City policy, which requires non-governmental organizations to ensure that they will not promote abortion as a method of family planning as a condition of U.S. financial assistance.

Other African officials on the letter include government leaders in Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Namibia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as Catholic Archbishop Alick Banda of Zambia and Archbishop Maurice M. Makumba of Kenya.

They said the funding has helped millions of Africans and thanked the American people for “their extraordinary generosity and solidarity.”

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𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆:
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗠𝗖𝗔,
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