HIV-AIDS activists occupied House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office Monday demanding that Congress reauthorize PEPFAR or the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
According to Politico, 7 of the activist were arrested by Capitol Police. The activists were reportedly from the groups HealthGAP and HousingWorks.
The group can be heard chanting in a video, “Pass PEPFAR Now.”
The protest occurred at McCarthy’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building, which handles his constituency service, and not the Speaker’s Suite in the U.S. Capitol Building.
“PEPFAR has been like the most amazing thing in the history of HIV,” said Dr. Sharon Lewin, the president of the International AIDS Society, according to NPR. “American taxpayers’ money is making a huge difference, a measurable difference in saving lives: 25 million people,” said Bush in 2022, adding that “if you care about human life, it matters. This is a life issue.”
PEPFAR has attracted criticism from some Republicans in Congress who argue that the program is being used to fund abortions abroad, which would purportedly violate the Helms Amendment, an appropriations law that bans the use of taxpayer funds to support abortion abroad.
Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, which has jurisdiction over PEPFAR, has accused the Biden administration of including abortion in the program, Politico reported.
Smith is seeking to permit PEPFAR’s reauthorization only if it includes provisions specifically excluding abortion, which Democrats have opposed due to their support for the procedure.
“They’re taking what was an initiative of George Bush … and are now trying to make it a political issue about abortion,” said Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Politico reported.
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Shortly after they began their protest, the activists were arrested by U.S. Capitol Police and removed from the premises, photographs showed. “Pass PEPFAR now,” they shouted as they were led out.
PEPFAR stands for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. It is a United States government program launched in 2003 with the primary goal of addressing the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and provides funding, technical assistance, and support to combat HIV/AIDS, especially in countries heavily affected by the disease, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
PEPFAR expires on September 30, 2023. PEPFAR is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease. It has provided over $80 billion in funding to fight HIV/AIDS in developing countries.
The long-term future of PEPFAR is uncertain. It is possible that the program will be scaled back or even eliminated
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