October 16, 2003
The Honorable Bill Frist
Senate Majority Leader
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Frist:
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services, we write to urge you to do all you can to ensure that the final 2004 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill does not negate those provisions in the Global AIDS Act (P.L. 108-25) which seek a more effective and morally responsible global health program. We also urgently implore you to fully fund our national commitment to those affected by HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, and those suffering from hunger and extreme poverty, especially in African countries.
Provisions in P.L. 108-25, including the "conscience clause" section, are threatened by nullifying language in the Senate version of the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. Specifically, Section 622 of S.1426 reads: Provided further, that funds appropriated by this Act that are made available for child survival activities or disease programs including activities relating to research on, and the prevention, treatment and control of, HIV/AIDS may be made available notwithstanding any other provision of law... We believe this language would also override other key safeguards against misuse of U.S. funds, such as the Helms amendment that has prevented direct funding of abortions with U.S. foreign assistance funds for thirty years. We urge you to ensure that this language is stricken from the Senate bill, and that language is added which will ensure that global health programs are funded in accordance with P.L. 108-25 and other important policy safeguards.
Furthermore, nullifying language similar to that in Section 622 is included in Section 522 of the House version of the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. We urge that you work with your Senate and House colleagues to ensure that these essential changes emerge in the final bill. Should this problem not be solved, steps towards a more effective and morally responsible approach to global health crises could be undermined. Moreover, such a law could impede the efforts of organizations such as Catholic Relief Services to carry out their vital role in fighting the AIDS pandemic.
Finally, we would like to appeal to you once again to work with the Bush Administration and your Congressional colleagues to find a way to provide the full $3 billion that Congress authorized for programs to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in 2004. The Catholic Church serves one in four people in the world with HIV/AIDS. We know firsthand the gravity of this crisis, and that these resources are urgently needed and can be put to effective use now. We also urge you to provide, subject to authorization, the $1.3 billion which the President has requested for 2004 for Millennium Challenge Account activities which alleviate poverty and promote human dignity in the world's poorest countries. Funding for these initiatives should be in addition to, not a substitute for, current funding for existing health, development and humanitarian assistance programs. Meeting these national commitments to the poor in our world is not just a matter of dollars, but one of moral responsibility.
We thank you for your leadership in addressing these matters of great urgency to the worlds poor, especially in Africa.
Most Reverend John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Chairman, Committee on International Policy
Catholic Relief Services