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Religious Tolerance logo

Recent battles in the "condom wars"

Events from the year 2006 to 2008

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Some randomly selected events - year 2006 to 2008:


The weekly Italian magazine "L'espresso" hit the newsstands. It contained an interview of Roman Catholic Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini who is a Jesuit and the retired Archbishop of Milan. He broke from the consensus within the Catholic leadership by supporting the use of condoms to fight the transmission of HIV and AIDS. He also took positions that deviated from those taught by the Church on in-vitro fertilization at fertility clinics, artificial insemination, physician assisted suicide, and the question that is at the basis of the stem cell research and abortion access controversies: "When does life begin?" 1

Cardinal Martini said:

"Everything possible must be done to oppose AIDS. Certainly in some situations the use of condoms can constitute a lesser evil. Then there is the particular situation of spouses, one of whom is infected with AIDS. The infected one is obligated to protect the other partner who should also be able to take protective measures.

But the question is whether it is appropriate that the religious authorities be the ones to promote such a means of defense, almost as if it were believed that the other morally sustainable means, including abstinence, should be put in second place, thus promoting an irresponsible attitude." 1

Stephen Crittenden of The Religion Report -- a radio program over the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) Radio National -- said:

"This week the Vatican is melting down over comments made by this man. ... He spoke about scientific progress, creating borderline zones or gray areas where it’s not immediately evident what the true good for men and women is." 2

The traditional Roman Catholic position is that one cannot commit an sinful or evil act even if the end result is a great good. For example, in those rare cases when a woman is dying during childbirth, it would not be permissible for a Catholic physician to perform an abortion (considered by the Church as always sinful) even if it would save the woman's life. Medical personnel must stand by, give only comfort care, and perhaps pray, as both the fetus and the woman die.

Cardinal Martini seems to be taking a "lesser evil" position in which the action that produces the greater good is the correct moral stance. In the example cited, this would justify an abortion and the acceptance of the death of the fetus, in order to save the life of the woman. The result is to have one death instead of two.

Author Philippa Foot created "the trolley problem" a thought experiment in ethics that involved a person taking an action that killed of one person in order to save the lives of five people. The dilemma has been presented to more than 200,000 individuals from over 100 countries; the vast majority selected the "lesser evil" position and chose one death as preferable to five. 3

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2006-MAY: Distribution of condoms in California prisons:

Professor Ronald L. Scott of the University of Houston wrote an article titled "California Considering Prison Condom Distribution." 4 It describes a conflict between legal and public health interests over the free distribution of condoms to inmates in prisons. Mississippi has a limited program in three prisons that gives condoms to prisoners to prevent pregnancy during conjugal visits. Vermont gives out condoms generally to the inmate population to prevent infection from HIV. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the program has never been evaluated. Condom distribution has also been reported in prisons at New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Los Angeles.

Prison staff resist the idea for a number of reasons:

  • In many jurisdictions, inmates are forbidden to engage in any sexual activity.
  • Condoms might be used to hide drugs which might be swallowed and later recovered. 4

However, the need for such a program seems critical, as the prevalence of HIV is 8 to 10 times higher in the inmate population compared to the general state population.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), and the Southern California HIV/AIDS Coalition (SCHAC) cosponsored bill A.B. 1677 in the California Legislature to allow distribution of free condoms in prison by any nonprofit or public health care agency. It was introduced by D. Sandre Swanson, (D-Oakland), and titled The Inmate and Community Public Health & Safety Act. Prison staff would not be involved in the distribution. It would have required the director of the Department of Corrections to:

"...require the director to allow any nonprofit or health care agency to distribute sexual barrier protection devices such as condoms or dental dams to inmates, as specified. The bill would also have established, "...that the distribution of those devices is not a crime nor shall it be deemed to encourage sexual acts between inmates," and that, "...possession of those devices cannot be used as evidence of illegal activity for purposes of administrative sanctions ..."

It was passed by the legislature during 2007-SEP, but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger on 2007-OCT-14. Instead, the governor promised to instruct the Department of Corrections to create a smaller pilot program in one of California's 33 prisons to evaluate its safety and effectiveness. 5

Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said:

"We are disappointed that Governor Schwarzenegger chose to veto AB 1334, a bill that would have helped reduce the spread of HIV and other STDs among California inmates and their post-incarceration partners. While there will be benefits coming from the Governor's proposal to implement a pilot program in one state prison, there are still 32 other institutions in which inmates -- and subsequently their partners at home -- will be exposed to HIV unnecessarily. We cannot waste precious time creating pilot programs to prove the effectiveness of public health measures that have been effective for a quarter of a century. With his veto of AB 1334, we believe the Governor is sadly putting politics over public health." 5

Joseph Terrill, Public Policy Coordinator for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said:

"Existing condom distribution programs in jails in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles already demonstrate that this California law could have worked without threatening safety and security in the state's correctional facilities; they are the de facto pilot program. California's prison and public health officials often walk a fine line as they try to grapple with controlling the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases among inmates in the state's prison population while following state law. The availability and use of condoms -- a proven risk-reduction strategy -- would have improved inmates' individual health outcomes and helped reduce costs to the state's overburdened prison health care system. We thank Assembly Member Swanson for authoring and carrying AB 1334, but remain saddened by the Governor's veto of this potentially lifesaving bill." 5

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2007-NOV-28: National HIV/AIDS prevention plan 2007-2009 in Nigeria:

Nigeria has a "national strategic framework" to combat the epidemic of HIV/AIDS that involves over 50 organizations. The first case in the country was reported in 1986. The prevalence rate had risen to 1.8% of the population by 1991, 4.5% by 1996, 5.5% by 2001. It started dropping and by 2003 had reached 5%; by 2005 it was 4.4%. By 2005, an estimated 2.9 million people were living with HIV/AIDS. An estimated 73,000 HIV-infected infants were born in 2005; this is the highest of any country in the world. 1.2 million children have been orphaned, also the highest of any country in the world.

Two previous programs implemented in 2003 and 2005-9 was based on "a balanced 'ABC' approach: Abstinence; Be Faithful; Use Condoms." Over 1 billion Naira (about 10 million U.S. Dollars) will be invested in the ABC programs over two years; 445 million Naira (about a half million U.S. dollars) will be invested in the training of people to use condoms and in the distribution of condoms. 6

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Fiscal year 2008: the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR):

This is the final year of a five year plan by the U.S. which lasted from 2003 to 2008 and involved the commitment of $15 billion to fight the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. PEPFAR increased the number of Africans who received antiretroviral treatment (ART) from 50,000 in 2004 to at least 1.2 million people by early 2008. According to Wikipedia:

"PEPFAR has been called the largest health initiative ever initiated by one country to address a disease. The budget presented by President Bush for the fiscal year 2008 included a request for $5.4 billion for PEPFAR. 7

Wikipedia continues:

"Some critics of PEPFAR feel that American political and social groups with moral rather than public health agendas are behind several requirements of PEPFAR, pointing to the mandates that one-third of prevention spending in 2006–2008 be directed towards abstinence-until-marriage programs and that all funded organizations sign an anti-prostitution pledge. PEPFAR also does not fund needle exchange programs, which are widely regarded as effective in preventing the spread of HIV." 7

Initially, 80% of the funding was directed to care and treatment, support for orphans and vulnerable children, and other related services. 20% was allocated to prevention programs known as the ABC Approach (Abstain, Be faithful, and correct and consistent use of Condoms) Of that 20%, one third was directed to abstinence-until-marriage programs.

James Gerstenzang of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote:

"The program provides readier access to anti-retroviral drugs, easing the impact of the disease on many. But it also puts a strong focus on premarital sexual abstinence, drawing criticism from the Institute of Medicine and the Government Accountability Office, which have said that this reliance limits the program's reach. ... Democrats want to strip requirements that one-third of the money go to abstinence-until-marriage programs and that some groups sign anti-prostitution pledges." 8

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today due to ISA: the Internet's Selective Amnesia.

  1. Sandro Magister, "When does life begin? Cardinal Martini replies," L'expresso, 2006-APR-21, at:
  2. "Catholics and condoms," The Religion Report, Radio National (Australia), 2006-MAY-03, at:
  3. "Trolley Problem," Wikipedia, as on 2010-NOV-16, at:
  4. Ronald L. Scott, "California Considering Prison Condom Distribution," University of Houston, 2006-MAY, at:
  5. "Veto of California's Condoms in Prisons Bill: "Politics Over Public Health," Says AHF," PR Newswire, 2006-OCT-15
  6. "National HIV/AIDS prevention plan 2007-2009 - Nigeria," US Aid, 2007-NOV-28, at:
  7. "President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief," Wikipedia, as on: 2010-OCT-12, at:
  8. James Gerstenzang, "In Tanzania, Bush urges Congress to renew AIDS relief program as it is. Dems argue for less focus on abstinence, maybe more funding," San Francisco Chronicle, 2008-FEB-18, at:

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Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2010-NOV-21
Latest update: 2010-NOV-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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