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Anti-abortion extremist Republicans prevent PEPFAR from being renewed

By: Moon Liu

In 2003, the United States released a program for fighting the sexually transmitted illnesses HIV and AIDS: the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. The program has received accolades worldwide, helping strengthen US relationships with international entities and saving over 25 million lives. In 2023, however, the program’s effectiveness has been bogged down by Republicans, claiming that the money that PEPFAR receives is being donated to abortion activists and used to support abortions.

PEPFAR was originally started by the President of the United States at the time, George W. Bush. He hoped to use the program to improve US-World relations and “alleviate the despair that allows extremism to take hold”, the George W. Bush White House Archives states.

This effort has been acclaimed worldwide and has saved millions of lives. In sub-Saharan Africa, where a notable amount of deaths are caused by this disease, there has been an especially large impact, which has improved the US’s standing on the international stage.

PEPFAR “helps us in a continent where China is all over the place,” Senator Robert Menendez said. “The one place they’re not all over the place is on helping to save people’s lives. We are, and we are known for that.”

After the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, however, the Republican party turned against the policy and is now attempting to inhibit the renewal of American efforts to continue this policy. Republicans believe that the clause stating that there should be efforts to improve reproductive health implies support for abortion.

Although Biden has changed nothing about the bill, anti-abortion activists have begun complaints about it and have threatened Republicans with a lowered score on antiabortion organizations’ websites, which could hurt reelection chances. These activists have also requested specific anti-abortion clauses be appended to the PEPFAR text, as they believe its vagueness on abortion to be in support of it.

“It’s just dumbfounding to me that the charge has been taken seriously,” said Shepherd Smith, a co-founder of the Children’s AIDS Fund International and a close worker with PEPFAR. Smith describes himself as a pro-life Christian Republican, but still believes that the claim of abortion support in PEPFAR is outrageous.

“I’ve talked to a number of implementing partners and I can tell you, there is nothing like that in Uganda,” said Robinson Ogwang, who sits on the board of The AIDS Support Organization, which has treated over 100,000 patients with PEPFAR.

Ironically, it was Republicans who initially requested clauses such as fund distribution to treatment and support for orphans. Due to their time-bound status which would run out faster than the rest of the bill, many conservative clauses on the bill would be removed if these complaints are taken seriously and the bill is not renewed.

Many issues regarding the renewal of this bill involve the altered stance of Representative Christopher H. Smith, who used to support the bill but now rejects it due to the reasons stated by these Republicans.

Health GAP, an international organization working on access to HIV medication, has requested that the public support PEPFAR instead of giving in to the extremist Republicans and cancelling the program due to their claims.

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