Ever since Bono showed pal Jesse Helms the light (or not), the formerly firebreathing senator has been on a crusade against AIDS. His conversion was nothing if not timely — these days, Christian conservatives are claiming the fight against AIDS as their own, and winning points from liberal pundits such as The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof for their good works. And rightly so — believe in it or not, faith is a mighty weapon.

Less-noticed, reports The American Prospect’s Sarah Wildman, is W.’s revival of the so-called “global gag rule” first instituted by Ronald Reagan. Originally conceived, so to speak, to stop U.S.A.I.D. money from going to overseas organizations that offered abortion counseling, the rule now applies to State Department aid money as well — a regulatory expansion instituted by the Bush administration this August, apparently while the press was snoozing on the beach. W. further tried to tie the restrictions to AIDS/HIV funding — a move AIDS activists blocked.

Still, writes Wildman, the gag rule has led to health clinic closures in the neediest parts of the world. And 29 countries have, in effect, been cut off from a supply of condoms — like faith, another mighty weapon against AIDS — due to their refusal to sign the Bush’s anti-abortion pledge.

Wildman’s story should remind reporters, editors, and Times columnists of what’s missing from their coverage of the global AIDS epidemic, which is as political as it is biological. The Revealer also wonders about what’s missing from Wildman’s account — any mention of religion at all. Which is to say, an explanation — much less exploration — of why the gag rule appeals to Bush’s Christian conservative base.

If they’re serious about fighting AIDS (and the evidence suggests they are) how does their faith reconcile trading the lives of millions of potential AIDS victims for those of the unborn? So long as liberal reporters cover the story as nothing but a stack of facts, and conservative Christians rely on stealth as a legislative strategy, that question will go unanswered.

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