Several HIV prevention groups say the Bush administration has pulled information about the effectiveness of condoms from a government Web site and is engaged in a "witch-hunt" against those who promote condoms in the fight against AIDS. They argue that the Administration is hostile to HIV prevention and sex education that is not based on "abstinence only," which discourages all sex outside of marriage and bans discussion of the benefits of birth control or condom use.
The advocacy groups said Monday they are particularly concerned about federal agency audits of AIDS groups now under way, in which finances and programming are being scrutinized. "It's a campaign to censor science and research, and it's a campaign to use government auditors to intimidate opponents of the Administration on key policy issues," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a group that promotes education about birth control and condom use.
The Administration says it is simply making sure that tax dollars are properly spent. "We're looking at ourselves to see what we need to do to be efficient and effective," said Claude Allen, deputy secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services. He called any suggestion of a witch-hunt laughable.
Health advocates, however, point to a series of actions in the past year as evidence of the Administration's hostility to non-abstinence-based sex education:
1) Information explaining the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission has been pulled from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Also gone: a section called "Programs That Work," which focused on HIV and highlighted several proven programs that involve condom use.
2) The HHS inspector general is investigating at least eight AIDS programs to see if their content is too sexually explicit or promotes sexual activity. Several of those reports are expected by year's end. The inspector general already issued one report highly critical of Stop AIDS in San Francisco, saying its programs aimed at gay men were promoting sex and were possibly obscene. For instance, it pointed to a program titled "Great Sex Workshop," which examined ways of reducing the spread of HIV but also explored sex that was "safe, erotic, fun, and satisfying."
3) In July a group of Republicans asked HHS to examine whether protesters at the international AIDS conference in Barcelona had used tax dollars to finance their trips. They also complained that the conference did not focus sufficiently on the role of religious groups in HIV prevention.
AIDS groups say the Administration's focus on abstinence is having a chilling effect on other AIDS programming. "There is a fear out in the community that if they produce something or say something inappropriate--or what is deemed as inappropriate--they will lose their funding," said Mary Ann Green of Florida AIDS Action.