WASHINGTON ― The White House honored World AIDS Day on Thursday, and what better person to speak on the issue than Vice President Mike Pence, whose career has included spreading misinformation about condom use and fueling the worst HIV outbreak in his state’s history.
“It is a day to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS,” Pence declared to a room of administration officials and business and faith leaders. “But it’s also a day to celebrate the remarkable progress that we’ve made in combating this disease and to reaffirm our ongoing commitment to end AIDS as a public health threat.”
“We are closer today. Than ever before. To ending. The AIDS crisis. In our time,” he added with dramatic effect, nodding as the room filled with applause.
But it was just in 2015, when he was governor of Indiana, that Pence’s cuts to public health funding and reluctance to sign off on needle exchanges contributed to a terrifying local HIV outbreak that resulted in nearly 200 people contracting the virus.
Pence laid the groundwork for the outbreak as a congressman in 2011, when the House passed his amendment to defund Planned Parenthood. That led to the 2013 closure of the lone Planned Parenthood clinic in Scott County, Indiana, which was the area’s only HIV testing center. By early 2015, local health officials were reporting a spike in HIV cases linked to intravenous prescription opioid use. At the height of the outbreak, 20 new cases of HIV were being diagnosed every week.
Pence, who became governor in 2013, ignored pleas by local, state and federal health officials to lift the state’s ban on needle exchanges. He said he was morally opposed to needle exchanges because he believed they supported drug abuse, which is not true.
After more than two months had passed since the outbreak was detected ― and after opting for prayer instead of action ― Pence finally allowed for a temporary needle exchange program in Scott County. The HIV cases eventually slowed.
The vice president’s terrible record on HIV/AIDS prevention goes back to at least 2002, when he criticized then-Secretary of State Colin Powell for advising young people to use condoms during sex. Pence claimed, somehow, that condoms don’t prevent STDs and actually threaten people’s lives.
“Colin Powell had an opportunity here to reaffirm this president’s commitment to abstinence as the best choice for our young people … and so I think it’s very sad,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. ”The other part is that, frankly, condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases, and in that sense, Wolf, this was ― the secretary of state maybe inadvertently misleading millions of young people and endangering lives.”
In 2003, Pence argued that the Bush administration should promote abstinence-only education over condom distribution as a solution to the HIV/AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa.
“The timeless values of abstinence and marital faithfulness before condom distribution are the cure for what ails the families of Africa,” he said on the House floor. “It is important that we not just send them money, but we must send them values that work.”
Frankly, condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Vice President Mike Pence talking nonsense in 2003
During his Thursday remarks, Pence announced that the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, will invest $100 million to expand engagement with faith-based organizations to fight the HIV epidemic.
“PEPFAR has not only been the largest investment, it has been inarguably one of the most successful investments in health care and humanitarian aid,” he said to more applause. “Like all of you, this is a cause that’s close to the heart of the American people and close to my heart.”
That sounds like a nice big number, but context matters: The Trump administration proposed cutting about $800 million from the global fight against HIV/AIDS in its fiscal year 2018 budget ― including PEPFAR.
In its fiscal year 2019 budget, the administration is calling for more than $1 billion in cuts to global HIV/AIDS programs in the State Department, USAID (including PEPFAR) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.