Friday, June 25, 2004

Condoms and half-truths

A New York Times article on President Bush's visit to Philadelphia yesterday has the following headline, "Bush backs Condom Use to Prevent Spread of AIDS". The first paragraph states,
President Bush said on Wednesday for the first time that the United States should "learn from the experience" of countries like Uganda in fighting AIDS and embraced the use of condoms to prevent its spread, a sensitive issue among conservative groups that have fought the adoption of any strategy that does not focus on abstinence.
Reviewing the transcript of the president's remarks one finds what he was really speaking about. Advocating condom use was not his focus nor his intent.
I think it's really important for us to focus on prevention. We can learn from the experiences of other countries when it comes to a good program to prevent the spread of AIDS, like the nation of Uganda. They've started what they call the A-B-C approach to prevention of this deadly disease. That stands for: Abstain, be faithful in marriage, and, when appropriate, use condoms. That's what A-B-C stands for. And it's working. I like to call it a practical, balanced and moral message. I say it's working because Uganda has cut its AIDS infection rate to 5 percent over 10 years. Prevention works. (Applause.)

I think our country needs a practical, effective, moral message. In addition to other kinds of prevention, we need to tell our children that abstinence is the only certain way to avoid contacting HIV. (Applause.) It works every time. Children have a way of living up or down to our expectations. If we want them to lead healthy and responsible lives, we must ask them to lead healthy and responsible lives. (Applause.)

This message, I know, is the primary duty of moms and dads. It's not the primary duty of the government. I fully recognize that. However, government can help. That's why I have proposed to double federal funding for programs that help local groups spread the most effective way to prevent the spread of AIDS, which is to teach children to make the right choices in life. (Applause.)

This is not the first time the president has lauded Uganda's ABC approach (see remarks by the president on 11 Jul 2003, 29 Apr 2003, 27 May 2003), and he has taken quite a bit of heat advocating it. The ABC approach does not stress condom use. Rather it stresses changing behavior by advocating abstinence and being faithful to one's partner. The use of condoms is suggested if abstinence and fidelity are not practiced. The focus on abstinence and fidelity is meant to change behavior and sexual attitudes.  Where condom use is promoted (Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa) the infection rates are still high. Yet, in Uganda, where the ABC approach is strongly advocated by the government with support from religious leaders there, the infection rate has declined from 15 to 5 percent since 1991. This approach shows high-risk sexual behavior can be discouraged and replaced by healthier lifestyles and that condoms do not play the primary role in reducing AIDS/HIV transmission.
I do not believe the president stated anything new here. Either the two NYT reporters are not up to speed on the president's previous remarks concerning his administration's AIDS initiatives and his own advocacy of the ABC approach or this is an attempt to tick off his conservative supporters.
The Catholic Church teaches the use of contraception is morally wrong. Wrong in every case. Much of the Church's understanding of this has been laid out by Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae vitae  and Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium vitae. The reasons why condoms should not be used in the prevention of AIDS/HIV fit into the Church's teachings but there are also other reasons:
  • When used correctly (and how often is that?) condoms are only 80-90% effective in preventing the transmission of HIV.
  • Condom use can lead to an increase in promiscuity and prostitution, which increases the likelihood of transmitting HIV.
  • Studies, sponsored by the U.N., have shown massive condom distributions have not led to any significant reduction in transmission, esp. when compared to the ABC approach.
We should be encouraged President Bush is talking about abstinence and asking Congress for increased funding for abstinence programs. We should remind ourselves, though the president could do more to help limit the use of contraception, we would not have a voice, an advocate, nor an implementation of actual policy and legislation these last three years with a President Gore, nor will we with a President Kerry.
God bless and protect President Bush. Give him the courage to stand up for what is right and the wisdom to know and do your will. Amen.


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