Puerto Rico is in the midst of a serious public health problem. The island ranks second among all U.S. states and territories in the number of people with AIDS. More than half the population lives at or below poverty level, which means many people can't pay for contraceptive methods themselves and must depend on government sex and reproductive health programs. But adolescents are not allowed to get contraception through these programs unless they have written authorization from their parents.
Despite these alarming statistics, last week Roman Catholic lobbyists succeeded in shooting down legislation that would have authorized sex education in the public school system.
"The bill proposed in Puerto Rico to make sex education a matter of law has been set aside," crowed Monsignor Matthew Habiger, president of the pro-life, pro-family group Human Life International. "This is a great victory for faith, life and family!"
The legislation was originally proposed in 1999 by Puerto Rico's governor, Pedro Rosselló. The proposal was also supported by Pro-Familia, the Puerto Rican affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Curious citizens who took the time to double-check the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico saw that the Bill of Rights insists on a clear separation between church and state.
But this didn't stop officials from HLI, who embarked on a vigorous campaign against the proposed law. In May, according to HLI press releases, Monsignor Richard Welch sent pro-family documents to the media, church organizations and the Senate Health Commission. The largely Catholic population was alerted to the impending catastrophe of public school sex education, and that worked. When the proposal was submitted for approval by the Legislative Assembly, it was set aside.
Welch pounded the pulpit in delivering his hysterical rhetoric. "Sex education is one of the foundation blocks of the culture of death," Welch warned. "The training of our children in sexual activity is a proven disaster. Children need to know and understand chastity."
In an HLI press release, Welch did not mention the escalating AIDS epidemic, nor did he acknowledge the difficulty Puerto Rico's young people have obtaining contraception. And he did not offer a concrete medical plan to provide protection against HIV.
"This effort in Puerto Rico is an indication that education on life and family issues works," Welch continued. "We must do everything possible to make the truth known. It can make a world of difference. It did in Puerto Rico, for the children and their families."