Clinton: “Abstinence� No Barrier To AIDS Funding

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[World AIDS Day]

Sen. Hillary Clinton would make a major change to President Bush's AIDS program if she were in the White House, she said this week in announcing her global strategy to combat AIDS.

The New York senator said she would strike one of the most controversial provisions of the program -- a requirement that one-third of funds spent on disease prevention abroad go to abstinence education programs.

The HIV/AIDS plans of Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards also express clear opposition to the "ideology" in disease prevention funding. Clinton's plan, however, offers the most explicit rejection of the abstinence requirements from a presidential candidate to date.

The plan the Bush administration initiated -- called the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR -- is a U.S.-funded, five-year, $15 billion plan to combat HIV/AIDS in developing nations. The program, initiated in 2003, is set to expire next year.

PEPFAR has been criticized by public health advocates outside the administration for its stipulation, mandated by Congress, that at least one-third of the money spent by the United States on disease prevention abroad should go to abstinence-before-marriage programs.

Bush administration officials have defended abstinence education as part of a multifaceted approach to fighting AIDS, a strategy that also includes "being faithful" and using condoms.

In 2006, former President Clinton offered measured praise for PEPFAR, but added, "An abstinence-only program is going to fail."

His wife's plan would "reauthorize and improve" PEPFAR, but would strike the abstinence provision "to ensure that prevention efforts can be tailored to local needs and populations most at-risk."

"Hillary wants to maximize the impact of new U.S. funding in prevention efforts at the local level," a release from her campaign said. "She believes that effective prevention models should be tailored to the needs of communities, without requirements that limit the ability to provide accurate information and relevant comprehensive services to as many individuals as possible."

All three of the leading Democratic candidates advocate expanding HIV/AIDS funding to at least $50 billion over a five-year period.

Obama and Edwards do not explicitly say they will strike the abstinence measure, although their plans imply as much.
Obama released an AIDS plan in October, saying he will "reauthorize PEPFAR when it expires in 2008 and rewrite much of the bill to allow best practices -- not ideology -- to drive funding for HIV/AIDS programs."

The Illinois senator also criticized abstinence-only programs in a 2006 speech to the Global Summit on AIDS and the Church, held at pastor and author Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California. Clinton discussed her AIDS plan there on Thursday.

Edwards' plan, released in September, says abstinence education "has been shown not to work" and that the PEPFAR measure "has us fighting with one hand tied behind our back."

A spokeswoman for Edwards said that the former North Carolina senator "would maintain support for PEPFAR but with a focus on scientifically-proven prevention strategies." All three candidates, however, have expressed general support for faith-based organizations that combat HIV/AIDS and poverty around the world.

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