Stephen Lewis supports abortion and promotes contraception.

Stephen Lewis supports abortion and promotes contraception.

Redeemer University College, an undergraduate liberal arts college founded by the Christian Reformed denomination, is scheduled to host a lecture in January by Stephen Lewis, former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

RUC’s activities and orientation co-ordinator, Micah van Dijk, who is helping to plan the event along with the university’s social justice club, admitted to in an interview that he did not know much about Lewis’s background and was open to learning more, but in a later interview with LSN, insisted that the lecture would be proceeding.

Van Dijk acknowledged that some of Lewis’s views are incompatible with Redeemer’s mission, but insisted the event will create the opportunity for “dialogue.” He said, further, that it would be inappropriate for RUC to distance itself from Lewis’s views in its advertising, because it would then be welcoming a guest into a hostile environment.

According to van Dijk, learning from Lewis about his approach to the AIDS crisis will give students the opportunity to wrestle with his views in terms of Christian teaching. The school has decided to schedule a panel discussion following Lewis’s lecture, but this has not yet been indicated in the web advertisement.

Lewis has long been a proponent of abortion, advocating its legalization in the 1960s. As leader of the Ontario NDP from 1970 to 1978, he influenced that party’s strong support for abortion rights. At the infamous Cairo conference on population and development in 1994, he spoke out against pro-lifers, including the Catholic church, which objected to the conference’s support of abortion and contraception. From 1995 to 1999, Lewis served as deputy director of UNICEF, a UN agency that promotes abortion and contraception.

Lewis, chair of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, is to speak at RUC about his work in the fight against AIDS. A survey of his work in this area, however, reveals that his proposed method of combating HIV/AIDS is not only ineffective, but in fact runs contrary to the Christian moral teaching held up by the university.

As UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa from 2001 to 2006, Lewis opposed abstinence programs, advocating instead the use of condoms. Most notable was his harsh critique of the Bush administration’s $15 billion President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which promoted in part the “ABC” approach – abstinence, be faithful, condoms. “What PEPFAR has done is to have made it possible for a number of Pentecostal and more fundamentalist churches to pursue the abstinence agenda,” stated Lewis in 2005, according to Reuters.

At the 2004 AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Lewis responded to U.S. envoy Randall Tobias’s proposed solution of promoting abstinence and fidelity by calling it “foolhardy,” “destructive” and “out of date.” Lewis complained that, “Tobias has an ideological agenda and the ideological agenda is abstinence over condoms as a matter of public policy,” he told reporters.

The evidence would seem to indicate otherwise, however. According to Dr. Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Centre for Population and Development Studies, it is condom distribution that has exacerbated the AIDS epidemic. He said studies show a correlation “between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV infection rates.”

Despite the massive support for condoms in AIDS prevention circles, the ineffectiveness of condoms at preventing the spread of AIDS is increasingly being acknowledged. UNAIDS itself estimated, in a 2003 study, that condoms are ineffective 10 per cent of the time, which is lower than other estimates that have put it at 20 or even 50 per cent.

Medical journalist Sue Ellin Browder revealed findings in 2006 that large increases in condom distribution in Africa paralleled massive growth in HIV/AIDS infection rates.

Uganda’s “ABC” anti-AIDS program, emphasizing abstinence and fidelity first, bears out this evidence, having achieved the greatest success among all African nations in the fight against AIDS. The 2008 UNAIDS epidemiological fact sheet estimates that HIV prevalence among adults in Uganda dropped from about 15 per cent in 1990 to about five per cent in 2007.

Despite Uganda’s success, Lewis has bemoaned the “condom crisis” in the country. “There is no question, in my mind, that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven and exacerbated by PEPFAR,” he said in a Johannesburg teleconference in August 2005, “and by the extreme policies that the administration in the U.S. is now pursuing in the emphasis on abstinence.”

The following month, the director of the Global Centre for Uganda’s ABC Strategy, Martin Ssempa, called on UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to fire Lewis. “Mr. Lewis is using the entire body of the UN for his personal agenda of condomizing the developing nations,” wrote Ssempa. “Why he has the audacity to fight the only nation which has demonstrated success in reducing HIV/AIDS is utterly beyond me.”

“Why isn’t Lewis talking about Botswana, South Africa and other nations which have taken UNAIDS advice of more condoms, but now have the highest rates of HIV in the world?” Ssempa asked. “Why is he picking on Uganda, which has been a shining example of behaviour change since 1988?”

A longer version of this article originally appeared Sept. 21 at and is reprinted with permission.