Senate stresses abstinence as a means to quell AIDS

Federally financed educational materials about AIDS would have to stress abstinence and could not promote homosexual behavior or use of illegal drugs, under a measure the Senate approved Wednesday.

The 94-2 vote came after Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) raised the specter of a sexually explicit comic book that was distributed by the Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York. He said the group receives federal money, and proposed the restrictions on materials paid for by taxpayers.

"If the American people saw these books, they would be on the verge of revolt," Helms told the Senate. He said that the comic books show "graphic detail of a sexual encounter between two homosexual men. (They) do not encourage a change in that perverted behavior. In fact, the comic books promote sodomy."

Helms acknowledged that federal funds did not pay for the comic books, but said that taxpayers' dollars did pay for educational sessions that he considered equally offensive.

The restriction was attached to the $129-billion Labor, Health and Human Resources and Education appropriations bill for fiscal 1988, which the Senate later passed, 80 to 15. The bill would provide $946.1 million for AIDS-related programs--including $310 million for AIDS education efforts overseen by the Centers for Disease Control--$74 million for the homeless, $1.6 billion for health resources and services, including child care and maternal health grants; $266.3 million for immunization programs; $1.5 billion to fight alcoholism and drug abuse and $1.5 billion to combat cancer.

It does not include a hotly debated provision for $585 million to help the poor heat their homes this winter.

Helms initially proposed that none of the CDC money be used for materials or activities that promote, encourage or condone illegal drug use or any sexual activity outside of marriage.

Opponents argued that such an amendment would have a chilling effect on the CDC's ability to curb AIDS among users of intravenous drugs, homosexuals and sexually active young people.

Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.) said that suggesting the use of clean needles or condoms to protect people from a disease that means certain death could be interpreted under the amendment as "condoning" drug use or non-monogamous sexual activity.

"If you're going to censor that education, you've got no solution" to the AIDS crisis, Weicker said.

Helms eventually dropped the word condone and the prohibition on materials that promote or encourage sexual activity outside marriage.

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