Former President George W. Bush is standing by a key global health initiative from his tenure in the White House as critics argue the program has been co-opted by abortion advocates during the Biden administration.
Bush’s op-ed appeared Wednesday in The Washington Post. In it, the former president argued that “American citizens from both parties should be proud” of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and all the lives the foreign assistance program has saved since its genesis in 2003.
Officials say PEPFAR, a program originally enacted under Bush to provide HIV/AIDS relief on a global scale, has saved 25 million lives across 55 countries, according to the Associated Press (AP). The program faces congressional reauthorization and is set to expire at the end of September. Renewed funding of the program has hit a roadblock as some congressional Republicans argue money from PEPFAR is backing abortions in foreign countries. The program was last reauthorized in fiscal year 2019.
Bush urged lawmakers in Congress to “reauthorize PEPFAR for another five years without delay.” Although it isn’t necessary for the program to be reauthorized in order to continue receiving funding, reauthorization would enable PEPFAR’s policies to get a an update.
“We are on the verge of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. To abandon our commitment now would forfeit two decades of unimaginable progress and raise further questions about the worth of America’s word,” the former president wrote.
In his push for the reauthorization of PEPFAR, Bush applied the words Michael Gerson, a former Bush administration official who in 2002 said failing to create the program would “be a source of national shame.”
— The George W. Bush Presidential Center (@TheBushCenter) September 13, 2023
The conservative Heritage Foundation think tank published a report in May arguing Democratic “social priorities like abortion and promotion of LGBTI issues” are changing the nature of PEPFAR. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Conservative Groups Urge Legislators To Stop Funding Foreign Orgs Promoting Gender Ideology, Abortion)
“Almost all political contributions from employees of PEPFAR agencies and assistance providers have gone to Democratic candidates and causes, revealing that PEPFAR is in fact an entirely Democrat-run program,” according to Heritage’s Tim Meisburger.
Meisburger argued that aside from “cases of rape or maternal transmission, HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and in developing countries is primarily a lifestyle disease … and as such should be suppressed though education, moral suasion, and legal sanctions.”
“For conservatives committed to personal responsibility, it also should not enjoy greater priority than deadlier and more unavoidable diseases receive in the allocation of public funds,” he wrote.
Republican New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith echoed similar concerns, telling AP he would not vote for PEPFAR reauthorization should funding go towards abortions. Smith is currently serving as chair of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that has authorization over PEPFAR’s funding.
PEPFAR head John Nkengasong told AP that to his knowledge, the program is not funding abortion services either directly or indirectly. He said he believes defunding the program could jeopardize domestic and international health, and that AIDS is better mitigated when those infected have access to a daily pill.