April 30, 2003
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I want to applaud the efforts of the House to focus greater attention, and to direct greater resources, to the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in the developing nations, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The Catholic Church is one of the principal institutions serving people who suffer from, or who are affected by, HIV/AIDS in Africa and other parts of the world. Because of our direct work with those most affected, we welcome the President's $15 billion initiative and the work of Congress to substantially increase our national commitment to fight HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases by providing at least $3 billion in FY2004. At this critical moment, a meaningful and immediate national response to this pandemic is required in order to provide hope to the millions of people who are dying from HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.
Although the overall direction of H.R. 1298 as well as a number of noteworthy provisions included in this legislation represent a positive development in U.S. foreign policy, I want to draw your attention to two issues that would, I believe, strengthen the response of the United States to this pandemic. This response should include a responsibly designed global health strategy emphasizing a comprehensive and morally appropriate approach to the health crises in poor countries.
Greater attention must be given to the role of abstinence and fidelity as major components of prevention education to help stanch the spread of HIV. One of the most encouraging recent developments in this area has been the success in reducing HIV transmission in countries like Uganda that give priority to promoting abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage. This priority is not yet clearly reflected in H.R. 1298 and we hope the full House will correct this deficiency.
The conscience clause amendment to be offered by Representatives Smith, Hyde and Stupak should be added to the House bill. This amendment would ensure that Catholic Relief Services, and other organizations, would be given full access to U.S. funds to serve the needs of people who are infected with, or affected by, HIV and AIDS, without the threat of being discriminated against on the basis of their religious or moral convictions.
The United States has a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate leadership in this health crisis of unparalleled proportion.
Most Reverend John H. Ricard
Committee on International Policy