U.S. Capitol Police on Monday arrested seven activists who staged a sit-in at the office of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) demanding the renewal of a government-funded program to combat HIV and AIDS internationally.
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a federally funded program also known as PEPFAR, works with nonprofit organizations to combat HIV and AIDS. It has been credited with saving the lives of more than 25 million people around the world since its implementation during the administration of President George W. Bush era. But as the Sept. 30 expiration date approaches, House Republicans have created a logjam on approving the program as they seek to add abortion-related restrictions. The New York Times reported.
Activists from nonprofits Housing Works and Health Global Access Project called on McCarthy and House Republicans to approve the five-year extension without additional restrictions.
“PEPFAR has saved millions of lives. For some members of Congress to view it as a political football is criminal,” Charles King, CEO of Housing Works and one of the seven activists arrested Monday, said in one opinion.
“AIDS is not over until it is over for everyone. PEPFAR has been critical to helping people in developing countries flatten the curve of HIV transmission,” King added. “The United States is committed to the international goal of ending AIDS by 2030, and we cannot do that if PEPFAR is threatened.”
The activists sat in McCarthy’s congressional office in Washington and chanted “Pass PEPFAR now, McCarthy.” for 10-15 minutes before he was arrested. Capitol Police said the seven people were charged with illegal entry.
“House Republicans are playing political games with the lives of countless adults, children and newborns living with HIV and those most affected by HIV around the world and here in the United States.”
– Asia Russell, Managing Director of Health GAP
PEPFAR has typically received bipartisan support in the past. Most recently it was extended by five years in 2018 with Signature of then-President Donald Trump.
But many Republicans baselessly claim that the program is related to their fight against abortion access. The Washington Post reported. One point of debate is whether PEPFAR funds can be used to support abortion. noted Congressional Research Servicea nonpartisan agency that summarizes legislative issues for Congress.
For example, House Global Health Subcommittee Chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) falsely claimed in a June letter to House members that Biden had “hijacked” PEPFAR by using it to fund abortion access.
PEPFAR funds are typically allocated to specific groups in different countries, which then use them to invest in personnel and long-term projects, Politico added. Part of the funds also go towards supporting children whose parents have died from the disease. according to Politico.
“House Republicans are playing political games with the lives of countless adults, children and newborns living with HIV and those most affected by HIV around the world and here in the U.S.,” said Asia Russell, executive director of Health GAP, also with McCarthy’s arrest office said in a statement Monday.
“The extremists in the House of Representatives have sunk to a new low,” Russell continued. “Never in PEPFAR’s 20-year history have lawmakers committed such outrageous acts. We call for a 5-year reauthorization of PEPFAR in its current form and full funding of HIV treatment and prevention programs in the United States.”