Issue 86, Summer 2002

by Joan E. Bertin

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson was drowned out by protestors at the recent international AIDS conference in Barcelona. This is ironic, given the Administration’s track record of suppressing speech about sexuality and sexual health. But this was a missed opportunity to demand a public accounting:

  • As Governor of Texas and as President, George W. Bush has aggressively promoted “abstinence-only-until-marriage” programs in the public schools. These programs withhold factual information about contraception, safer sex practices and HIV/AIDS, because it is viewed as inconsistent with an abstinence-only, marriage-promotion message. In short, they muzzle students and teachers and promote ignorance.
  • On his second day in office, President Bush reinstated the “global gag rule,” which restricts aid to international groups that advocate for abortion, even if they use other funds to do so. According to Scientific American, the rule “curbs health care providers’ ability to talk about medical options…[and] means a loss of funds for counseling and contraception.”
  • At the recent UN special session on children, the US allied itself with Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, and the Vatican, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail, to oppose “birth control, even as a solution to the world’s AIDS crisis. American representatives have said that the only solution to AIDS they will acknowledge or fund is sexual abstinence, both before and during marriage.” According to Secretary Thompson, “abstinence is the only sure way of avoiding sexually transmitted disease, premature pregnancy and the social and personal difficulties attendant to nonmarital sexual activity.”

The Administration’s theory, apparently, is that ignorance = safety. In contrast, Pascoal Mocumbi, Prime Minister of Mozambique, an eloquent and outspoken advocate for his country’s “child brides who are often infected with AIDS by their husbands, says we must summon the courage to talk frankly and constructively about sexuality….We must provide young people with information…”

If officials have their way, young people in Mozambique will get more information about sex than many students in American high schools.