Democrats Compromise on Abstinence-Only Funding; Title X Increase

Yesterday, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations voted to increase federal funding for community based abstinence-only education programs (CBAE) in this country by an almost unprecedented $27.8 million, "despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs it supports do not work" according to a press release from SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States).

In 2006, the committee approved a bill that would keep funding for abstinence-only programs steady but did not increase the amount.

In fact, just last month, the government released a report commissioned on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services outlining clear evidence that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs do not delay sexual activity at a significant rate for young people, and do not result in higher rates of abstinence than their peers who are taught medically accurate, fact-based sexuality education.

So, what happened?

According to some reports, the increase was a compromise in a bill that also seeks to increase funding by over $10 billion for other domestic programs — a bill that Democrats are concerned Bush would veto without the abstinence-only olive branch. The appropriations committee also approved an identical $27.8 million increase for Title X — the public health program that funds federal family planning programs.

James Wagoner's post for RH Reality Check, published on Daily Kos yesterday, drew hundreds of comments – from those irate with the Democrats seemingly endless stream of "compromises" to the more moderate who supported this kind of a concession for the results promised:

"Caving in to Bush on time tables out of fear of criticism (from people who will never vote Democratic, anyway) was pathetic, but I hoped it was a one-time lack of values and conviction. But now you are caving in on the scientifically-debunked anti-health measure of abstinence-only education. Is there no low you wont [sic] stoop to in order to avoid angering the big, bad conservatives? What's next? Caving in on global warming? Environmental protection? Food and drug protection? Do you have any intention of living up to any of your promises or making any of the changes that were the reason you were elected to office? Or was the idea that you would use your brain and pass intelligent, forward-thinking legislation just a trick to get us to vote for you?"

"Abstinence-only education is a hugely bad idea, and is something that needs to be ended yesterday, at least in terms of federal funding. But I can also see the utility in using $27 million funding it for now as a means to get through $10 billion — more than 370 times that amount — that also funds other kinds of sex education and broader access, for example…I hate that we're in a position to have to do this kind of dealing in the first place, but there you go. Mr. Unpopular has no qualms about whipping out the veto pen."

Is this just more of the weak-excuse-for-a-stance "middle-ground" that Hillary proposed when talking about abortion? Are we willing to give this "special consideration" with the understanding that politics is really just a big game?

Abstinence-only funding does not begin and end in a House chamber in Washington, DC. The funding is a stream that flows from public school to public school throughout this country ending up in the hearts and minds of the young people who are unlucky enough to be the recipients of this kind of ideology-based "education." So while we all debate the merits of whether or not this kind of a negotiation is really necessary, our young people are still left without the tools they need to protect their health and navigate their sexual lives successfully.

To take action, visit the Advocates for Youth web site.

*Update: According to Advocates for Youth, the ranking Republican member, Rep. James T. Walsh, R-N.Y., praised Democratic Chair David Obey and his legislation, saying something to the effect that he wouldn't have done much differently himself. In a recent Congressional Quarterly magazine, Walsh is quoted as saying:

'Dave is a very pragmatic guy,' said Walsh. “Based on what I know, I think he’s done a pretty good job…'

James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, has this to say about the Republican praise, "With $140 million for failed abstinence-only programs, no wonder he’s excited! David Obey and the other Democrats on the appropriations committee did what the Republicans themselves couldn’t do when they were in charge the last three years- navigate a 25% increase in abstinence-only funding through the sub-committee! I’m certain that the thousands of young people that will continue to receive incomplete and inaccurate information about their sexual health will be very reassured."

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  • invalid-0

    I read that report. I’m not sure it really tells us much about the impact of the program that the activity rates were identical between program and control groups when they’re at the same school and presumably allowed to talk to and date and sleep with their classmates from the other group. You know, they might compare notes or otherwise violate the control conditions, rendering the results meaningless.

  • invalid-0

    The continuation and increase in this funding is such a bad idea for it not only continues these failed programs but continues to fund grassroots religious right activists that work against Democrats at the local and state levels. The Democrats that devised this compromise are funding their opponents. No wonder the GOP is happy!

  • invalid-0

    This funding increase is no concession – it’s outright pandering with very real consequences. The money will continue to be funneled to extremist, religious right organizations and will continue to fund what cannot even be called education but ideological zealotry. Including abstinence in a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum is crucial – I believe it should be stressed as the only 100% effective STI/pregnancy prevention method. However, we are talking about providing education to our young people that they will need as they move through high school, college and beyond. How can we send them out into the world without the information and tools they need? THey need information on all of the various ways to prevent STIs and pregnancy, how to have healthy sexual relationships, what family planning is, and how to access it!

    These Democrats are despicable and more than that they have so far not lived up to ANY expectations I have had that they will lead us towards more progressive reproductive rights policies.