Activists host sit-in at McCarthy’s office as GOP abortion politics derail Aids relief funding

Republicans’ extreme turn on abortion now threatens future of decades-old Aids relief programme

John Bowden
Washington DC
Monday 11 September 2023 22:34 BST
SF AIDS Foundation: Turning HIV/AIDS into a managable condition

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The Republican Party’s sudden and extreme turn on abortion rights has just thrown into total uncertainty the future of one of the US’s greatest weapons in the fight against HIV/Aids, one of the deadliest disease outbreaks in modern history.

Activists piled into the chambers of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Monday as his party looks poised to refuse the reauthorization of President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funding with a deadline to fund the government looming at the end of the month.

“House Republicans are playing political games with the lives of countless adults, children, and newborns with HIV and most affected by HIV across the globe and here in the U.S.,” one of the demonstrators in Mr McCarthy’s office told The Hill.

“Extremists in the House have sunk to a new low. Never in the twenty-year history of PEPFAR have lawmakers pulled such outrageous stunts. We demand a 5-year reauthorization of PEPFAR in its current form, and full funding for HIV treatment and prevention programs in the U.S.”

The reason for the sudden opposition of the GOP to a programme that was introduced in 2003 by a Republican president? Abortion, and more importantly the GOP’s quest to ensure that any organisation that receives so much as a dollar from the federal government be barred from performing, advocating for, or even providing educational materials about the issue.

As a result, Politico reports that a cadre of right-wingers is set to demand the programme be left out of any short-term funding bill to be passed at the end of the month. Whether the program would be revived at all after that would likely become a question of how much pressure Aids activists can put on Republican lawmakers before the end of the year.

Some lawmakers, according to the news outlet, see a possibility of reauthorizing the programme later this year as part of an omnibus spending bill. But that, again, relies on activists to raise hell for weeks and months to keep the issue from falling out of the attention of DC politicians.

It’s a frustrating development for advocates of the fight to eradicate HIV/Aids, one of if not the most serious sexually-transmitted diseases known to man. Many assumed that the plan’s passage under George W Bush guaranteed its bipartisan protection for years to come.

Now, months after the 20th anniversary of PEPFAR’s first announcement, the programme could be on its last legs. Republicans behind the charge to cancel the five-year reauthorising it are hoping to force a short-term funding agreement on PEPFAR that would impose anti-abortion restrictions on groups that receive the funding.

Those same Republicans have shown little concern for the idea that the political games over the programme could endanger its entire future.

“Some of these activists are telling members of Congress that it all ends on September 30th, but it’s just not true,” Congressman Chris Smith, chair of the subcommitte that oversees PEPFAR. “What planet are they on?”

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