Will the Democrats Continue Funding for the Far Right?

The U.S. House of Representatives soon will be considering appropriations to determine the distribution of federal funding for abstinence-only programs. The federally-funded report from Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. was only the most recent of many scientific studies that prove abstinence-only programs don't work; there have been numerous warning signs in the past decade that Congress has ignored. There has never been widespread support for abstinence-only programs as parents largely see them as ineffective. Only the GOP majority in Congress kept them in place. The GOP majority is now history.

Reproductive health advocates have been calling for an end to the various funding streams for ideologically based abstinence-only programs, including Title V ($50 million), Community Based Abstinence Education Program (CBAE = $113 million), and the PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) earmark of $300 million in global aid for abstinence-until-marriage strategies. With the Democratic majority in Congress, advocates have hoped that the time has finally come to stop spending taxpayer money on these ineffective programs.

However, rumor has it that the majority Democrats will be selling out their base and the netroots by keeping Title V, CBAE, and the PEPFAR earmark. Democrats have thus far rejected responsibility for the far right's pet programs; but if they continue along this path, there will be no denying their support for abstinence-only policies.

"Those of us in the public health and human rights fields are deeply concerned that the Democrats will continue to support funding for abstinence-only programs," said James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth. The Society of Adolescent Medicine has also rejected abstinence-only policies, stating they undermine medical ethics and basic human rights, as well as negatively impact other federal programs (such as global HIV prevention).

Last week Michael Reynolds exposed direct links from federal funding for abstinence-only programs to major conservative players closely tied to the Bush Administration in an in-depth article for The Nation.

Over the past six years George W. Bush's faith-based Administration and a conservative Republican Congress transformed the small-time abstinence-only business into a billion-dollar industry. These dangerously ineffective sexual health enterprises flourish not because they spread "family values" but because of generous helpings of the same pork-heavy gumbo Bush & Co. brought to war-blighted Iraq and Katrina-hammered New Orleans—a mix of back-scratching cronyism, hefty partisan campaign donations, high-dollar lobbyists, a revolving door for political appointees and a lack of concern for results.

Reynolds starts by tracing the money from federal abstinence funding to Catholic multimillionaire Raymond Ruddy and his organizations: Maximus, his for-profit company which alone has gained $100 million from Bush Administration federal contracts, and Gerard Health Foundation, his charity that funds abstinence-only and anti-abortion groups.

Reynolds proceeds to highlight Ruddy's cronies in the Bush Administration, including Wade Horn, Eric Keroack, Tommy Thompson and others in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Next, he reveals the money and efforts that Ruddy and friends put into supporting the Republican Congress and the President through lobbying, voter registration drives, political donations and deceptive advertisements against Democrats. Reynolds concludes by emphasizing the extreme conservative social agenda advanced by those who profit from abstinence funding.

Without oversight and defunding from Congress, the money will continue to flow for the next five years into Raymond Ruddy's extended family of antiabortion, anti-condom, anti-gay, abstinence-only Protestant evangelicals and Catholics—a radical consortium that threatens the health of millions.

With polling overwhelmingly suggesting that parents prefer proven public health strategies such as comprehensive sexuality education, some Democrats appear to be losing touch with reality. They should de-fund these programs based solely on the evidence against abstinence-only policies. With the evidence that these programs do more to support political cronies in the social conservative movement than teach teens to be responsible with their sexuality, continued funding would be an even more stunning betrayal.

RH Reality Check has repeatedly reported on the inaccuracies and ineffectiveness of abstinence-only and abstinence-until-marriage prevention methods. We strongly encourage Congress to fund medically-accurate and reality-based strategies and not spend more money on ideologically-motivated abstinence-only education and outreach.

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    I think the real question we should be asking on the domestic side is why Mrs. Pelosi is allowing Chairman Obey to screw over sex education while perpetuating Republican pork? The last two fiscal years, the Republicans flat funded abstinence-only and Democrats are going to do the same thing? This in spite of the fact that nearly ever member of his subcommittee officially asked Obey for cuts or an end to ab-only. So Obey will deliver up another $180 million to support the ab-only/anti-choice industry and then we all sit around scratching our heads and wonder why we seem to make little to no progress on reproductive health policy in DC. Obey ought to lose control over this bill and Pelosi ought to be called out for allowing him to do as he pleases, particularly by her constituents who are also going to get screwed on restoring the significant Republican cuts to HIV prevention funding while the ab-only boondoggle continues.