The House has voted to reauthorize the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief after adding pro-life protections, teeing up a showdown with the Senate as Republicans accuse the Biden administration of seeking to expand the program’s mission to allow promoting abortion.
The House voted 216-212 late Thursday to pass the State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill, which includes a one-year extension for PEPFAR, after amending the legislation to prohibit the global HIV/AIDS relief from going to non-governmental organizations that advocate for abortion.
The bill’s passage came after heated debate over the Biden administration’s September 2022 plan, “Reimaging PEPFAR’s Strategic Direction,” which called for integrating the program initiated by President George W. Bush with areas such as “sexual reproductive health, rights and services.”
Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican who led the fight to keep abortion support out of PEPFAR, accused the Biden administration of attempting to “hijack” the $6.7 billion AIDS program that is credited with saving 25 million lives since 2003.
“Regrettably, PEPFAR has been reimagined—hijacked—by the Biden administration to empower pro-abortion international non-governmental organizations, deviating from its life-affirming work,” said Mr. Smith, who sponsored PEPFAR’s 2018 reauthorization.
“Thankfully, the House has voted to reject Biden’s new PEPFAR abortion promotion strategy and increase spending for its life-saving programs while ensuring key pro-life protections,” he said.
The amended bill applied to all health funds the so-called Mexico City policy, which bars foreign aid from subsidizing organizations that perform or promote abortion. President Biden revoked the policy across the board immediately after assuming office in January 2021.
Democrats have accused Republicans of jeopardizing lives by threatening to block the reauthorization of PEPFAR. U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkengasong insisted in June that PEPFAR has never and would never be used as a platform to support abortion.
The State Department has since added a footnote to its PEPFAR document saying “PEPFAR does not fund abortions.”
“We are close to an AIDS-free generation,” tweeted Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, before Thursday night’s vote. “But MAGA extremists are blocking PEPFAR’s renewal—jeopardizing the most successful public health program in history. Not on my watch.”
The House bill, which passed with no Democratic votes, now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who previously chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has sought a five-year reauthorization. PEPFAR’s authorization expires on Sunday.
Mr. Menendez stepped down last week as chairman because he faces felony bribery charges, and was replaced by Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland Democrat.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, praised the House-passed bill and insisted “PEPFAR is not going anywhere, nor should it.”
“We applaud the House for protecting the core mission of the program against the Biden administration’s attempts to use an AIDS relief program to jam their agenda to fund abortion providing groups to carry out ‘reproductive health, rights and services,’” she said. “These are coded terms for abortion on demand exported to countries around the world, a position the majority of Americans disagree with.”
Mr. Smith noted that 131 African lawmakers and religious leaders asked Congress in June to ensure that PEPFAR funding isn’t used to promote abortion, which “violates our core beliefs concerning life, family and religion.”
“It’s time we got back to the original noble goal—prevent this devastating disease, robustly treat and assist those who have been infected, and ultimately end HIV/AIDs around the world,” Mr. Smith said.
The final $51.5 billion bill cut about 25% of the Biden administration’s total appropriations request by eliminating “counterproductive climate programs that harm national security” and reining in “wasteful bureaucracy,” said the House Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, said the bill “significantly reduces wasteful spending while prioritizing and strengthening our national security.”