Delivering The Truth: World AIDS Day 2008

Kimberly Whipkey

After years of ineffective, ideologically-driven U.S. HIV prevention policies, faith leaders are speaking up this year about comprehensive sex ed and the importance of access to a full range of sexual and reproductive health services in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

This World AIDS Day, I am looking forward to some honest and open talk about HIV and AIDS; some frank discussion about how to prevent HIV infection, in particular about the things we already know.  Ensuring access to male and female condoms and the skills to negotiate their use; support services for victims of rape and abuse, such as post-exposure prophylaxis, emergency contraception and counseling; and comprehensive sex education.  I’m anxious to hear about how we must finally get serious about addressing the diverse prevention needs of communities at risk of HIV infection, such as women, youth, people of color and men who have sex with men.  After years of ineffective, ideologically-driven U.S. HIV prevention policies, I’m really looking forward to some straight talk about what works and what we have to do to get there. 

So who will be speaking this truth about HIV and effective prevention on World AIDS Day? 

Faith leaders are taking the charge, along with civil society and HIV-positive leaders.  A broad coalition of faith-based and secular organizations is holding a World AIDS Day Interfaith Service on December 1, in Washington, D.C., that seeks to elevate faith and civil society voices on critical issues like comprehensive sex education and access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services and information.

On a pre-service media briefing, we heard from HIV-positive and faith leaders about just how desperately the U.S. needs to promote prevention policies and programs at home and abroad that are comprehensive, integrated and based on evidence rather than ideology. 

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Max Siegel, an American young man living with HIV remarked that narrow, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs failed to address his realities and did not equip him with the knowledge and tools to prevent infection.  "In my gym teacher’s class, my male peers and I were told that sex was dangerous and that we should think more seriously about it when we grow up and marry.  The teacher made clear that only one kind of sexuality, heterosexuality ending in marriage, was acceptable to talk about. Already aware of my sexual orientation, which is not heterosexual, I found no value in his speech.   It did not speak to me and my life."

Grace Sedio, a woman living with HIV who is a human rights advocate in Botswana told us about the challenges women in developing countries face in protecting themselves from HIV infection.  "For me as a grassroots woman living in Africa, a major problem is that most of us here are poor.  Most of us are unemployed.  This puts us at risk of getting infected.  You find yourself having a partner that you can’t say no to sex, that you can’t say no to anything… and you find yourself pregnant…"

The great news is that faith leaders are speaking out about the urgent need for effective prevention efforts, in addition to the role that faith communities can play in providing honest talk and education about HIV and how to combat stigma and discrimination.  "The faith community has an enormous capacity for creating awareness, education, and providing services that can prevent infection and give support and care to those affected," said Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, Executive for Health and Wellness Advocacy, with the United Church of Christ.

These messages will be amplified at the Interfaith Observance on December 1.  All are welcome to attend!  The service will take place from 6:00p.m. – 7:30p.m. at the Foundry United Methodist Church, 1500 16th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20036. 

Speakers include:

  • Salma Abugidieri, Director, Peaceful Families Project
  • Rev. Dr. Bernice Powell Jackson, North American President, World Council of Churches and Interim Pastor, Beecher Memorial United Church of Christ
  • Patricia Nalls, Founder & Executive Director, The Women’s Collective
  • Rev. William G. Sinkford, President, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
  • Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

 

This World AIDS Day, on the eve of a new U.S. administration, I am hopeful that the U.S. will promote evidence, equality and human rights in its HIV prevention efforts and take a holistic approach to combating the global pandemic. 

As Rev. William G. Sinkford stated on the media briefing, "there will [likely] be continued political pressure to pick and choose among our HIV/AIDS policy options.  But a piecemeal approach simply will not work.  We have to address the full social and economic contexts in which real people live or the pandemic will continue to spread.  We won’t defeat AIDS without first defeating poverty, injustice and hatred."  

The transcript of the World AIDS Day media briefing is available by clicking here and the flyer for the Interfaith Observance is available for download here (PDF).  
Cosponsors include: Advocates for Youth; American Jewish World Service; Black AIDS Institute; Catholics for Choice; Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE); Foundry United Methodist AIDS Mission; General Board of Church & Society, United Methodist Church; International Women’s Health Coalition; National Council of Jewish Women; Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; Secular Coalition of America; Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS); Union for Reform Judaism; Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations; United Church of Christ (Justice and Witness Ministries); Women of Reform Judaism; The Women’s Collective

News Family Planning

Judge Thwarts Ohio GOP’s Attack on Planned Parenthood Funding

Michelle D. Anderson

“This law would have been especially burdensome to communities of color and people with low income who already often have the least access to care—this law would have made a bad situation worse,” said Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio.

An effort to defund Ohio Planned Parenthood affiliates by Gov. John Kasich (R) and the Republican-held legislature has come to an end.

Judge Michael R. Barrett of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio on Friday ruled in Planned Parenthood’s favor, granting a permanent injunction on an anti-choice state law.

The court ruling will keep Richard Hodges, the Ohio Department of Health director, from enforcing HB 294.

The 2015 law, sponsored by Rep. Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland) and Rep. Margaret Conditt (R-Butler County), would have redirected $1.3 million in state and federal taxpayer funds from Planned Parenthood’s 28 clinics in Ohio.

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The law would have required the state department to keep federal funds and materials that the health department receives from being distributed to entities that perform or promote non-therapeutic abortions, or maintain affiliation with any entity that does.

Funding that would’ve been cut off from the state health department went to the Violence Against Women and Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention acts, the Infertility Prevention Project, Minority HIV/AIDS and Infant Mortality Reduction initiatives, and the Personal Responsibility Education Program.

Planned Parenthood in a lawsuit argued that the Republican legislation violated the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Barrett had temporarily blocked the law after Planned Parenthood affiliates filed the lawsuit and requested a preliminary injunction. The judge had issued an opinion contending that some legislators passed the law to make it difficult for people to access abortion care, as Rewire reported.

Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, praised the judge’s temporary order.

“This law would have been especially burdensome to communities of color and people with low income who already often have the least access to care—this law would have made a bad situation worse,” Harvey said in a statement.

Kellie Copeland, NARAL Pro Choice Ohio’s executive director, said in a statement that the Ohio legislature passed the anti-choice measure in an effort to appeal to conservative voters in early primary states during Kasich’s presidential campaign.

Copeland said that while the legislation made no effort to reduce the number of abortions performed, “it actively blocked critical health care for low-income women and families.”

Planned Parenthood said those services included 70,000 free STD screenings, thousands of HIV tests for at-risk community residents, and the largest infant mortality prevention program in the state.

In the 23-page court order and opinion, Barrett, an appointee of President George W. Bush, acknowledged that the law would have deterred “patients from seeking these potentially life-saving services.”

Planned Parenthood noted that the recent ruling in Ohio makes it among the ten states where courts have blocked anti-choice laws following June’s landmark Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

News Health Systems

Texas Anti-Choice Group Gets $1.6 Million Windfall From State

Teddy Wilson

“Healthy Texas Women funding should be going directly to medical providers who have experience providing family planning and preventive care services, not anti-abortion organizations that have never provided those services," Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement.

A Texas anti-choice organization will receive more than $1.6 million in state funds from a reproductive health-care program designed by legislators to exclude Planned Parenthood

The Heidi Group was awarded the second largest grant ever provided for services through the Healthy Texas Women program, according to the Associated Press.

Carol Everett, the founder and CEO of the group and a prominent anti-choice activist and speaker, told the AP her organization’s contract with the state “is about filling gaps, not about ideology.”

“I did not see quality health care offered to women in rural areas,” Everett said.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement that it was “inappropriate” for the state to award a contract to an organization for services that it has never performed.

“The Heidi Group is an anti-abortion organization, it is not a healthcare provider,” Busby said.

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State lawmakers in 2011 sought to exclude Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women’s Health Program, which was jointly funded through federal and state dollars. Texas launched a state-funded version in 2013, and this year lawmakers announced the Healthy Texas Women program.

Healthy Texas Women is designed help women between the ages of 18 and 44 with a household income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and includes $285 million in funding and 5,000 providers across the state.

Bubsy said the contract to the Heidi Group was “especially troubling” in light of claims made by Everett in response to a recent policy requiring abortion providers to cremate or bury fetal remains. Everett has argued that methods of disposal of fetal remains could contaminate the water supply.

“There’s several health concerns. What if the woman had HIV? What if she had a sexually transmitted disease? What if those germs went through and got into our water supply,” Everett told an Austin Fox News affiliate.

The transmission of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections through water systems or similar means is not supported by scientific evidence.

“The state has no business contracting with an entity, or an individual, that perpetuates such absurd, inaccurate claims,” Busby said. “Healthy Texas Women funding should be going directly to medical providers who have experience providing family planning and preventive care services, not anti-abortion organizations that have never provided those services.”

According to a previous iteration of the Heidi Group’s website, the organization worked to help “girls and women in unplanned pregnancies make positive, life-affirming choices.”

Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokesperson Bryan Black told the Texas Tribune that the Heidi Group had “changed its focus.”

The Heidi Group “will now be providing women’s health and family planning services required by Healthy Texas Women, including birth control, STI screening and treatment, plus cancer screenings to women across Texas,” Black said in an email to the Tribune.

Its current site reads: “The Heidi Group exists to ensure that all Texas women have access to quality health care by coordinating services in a statewide network of full-service medical providers.”

Everett told the American-Statesman the organization will distribute the state funds to 25 clinics and physicians across the state, but she has yet to disclose which clinics or physicians will receive the funds or what its selection process will entail.

She also disputed the criticism that her opposition to abortion would affect how her organization would distribute the state funds.

“As a woman, I am never going to tell another woman what to tell to do,” Everett said. “Our goal is to find out what she wants to do. We want her to have fully informed decision on what she wants to do.”

“I want to find health care for that woman who can’t afford it. She is the one in my thoughts,” she continued.

The address listed on the Heidi Group’s award is the same as an anti-choice clinic, commonly referred to as a crisis pregnancy center, in San Antonio, the Texas Observer reported.

Life Choices Medical Clinic offers services including pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, and well-woman exams. However, the clinic does not provide abortion referrals or any contraception, birth control, or family planning services.

The organization’s mission is to “save the lives of unborn children, minister to women and men facing decisions involving pregnancy and sexual health, and touch each life with the love of Christ.”

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