Lawmakers Ask Obey to End Ab-Only Spending

Seventy-six members of Congress are saying enough is enough. Failed abstinence-only programs do not deserve to be funded through tax-payer dollars any longer.

Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA) led a group of 76 lawmakers in sending a letter (pdf) to House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (also a Democrat) urging him to delete any funds for “failed abstinence-only sexual education programs” from FY’09’s Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), one of the signers of the letter, said, "In a country with the highest teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates in the industrialized world, we have a responsibility to ensure that our youth has access to medically accurate, comprehensive sex education with a history of success. Study after study has proven that abstinence-only education simply does not work and we cannot afford to waste millions of taxpayer dollars on programs that we know to be a failure."

There are now 17 states to have turned down federal abstinence-only funding simply because state leaders, legislators and public health departments in those states have determined that abstinence-only programs are ineffective at teaching our young people about how to care for their sexual health and bodies.

The evidence that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have completely failed our young people is staggering. Our federal government’s own report offers conclusive information that these programs do not work. Leading scientists and academics from across this country have offered their years of expertise and research in this letter to plead with our government to stop funding programs that endanger our young people’s health. Finally, despite having poured more than one billion dollars into these programs we must face this recent news: one out of every four young women is infected with a sexually transmitted infection in this country.

Is this the direction we want to continue heading? Rep. Jim Moran and his colleagues say no:

You can also read the PDF of this letter.

March 19, 2008

Dear Chairman Obey:

As you begin work on the Fiscal Year 2009 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill, we urge you to reconsider funding for the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program, and to devote those dollars to other, more effective programs. We thank you for granting the program no new increase in last year's final bill; that was an important first step.

As you know, more than $1 billion has been spent on "abstinence-only" programs in the last decade and annual funding for these programs now stands at an all-time high of $176 million. The CBAE account alone has grown from $20 million appropriated in FY'01 to $113 million appropriated this year.

However, numerous reports have found that the "abstinence-only" approach simply does not work. For example, in April 2007, the independent research firm Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. released a study – commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – concluding that students in "abstinence-only" programs are no more likely to abstain from sex, delay initiation of sex, or have fewer sexual partners than students who did not participate. Moreover, 13 states have evaluated their federally funded "abstinence-only" programs and not a single one found positive, long-term impact. In fact, in some cases young people who participated in the programs actually increased their sexual activity. As a result of these and other evaluations, at least 15 states have rejected federal "abstinence-only" funding.

Not only do these programs not help our teens abstain from sex, many are rife with scientific inaccuracies, factual errors, and troubling biases that put our teens at greater risk for unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. A 2004 House Government Reform Committee report found that more than two-thirds of CBAE grantees used curricula that "contain false, misleading or distorted information about reproductive health," such as that condoms fail more often than they actually do, that sweat and tears can transmit HIV, and that women need "financial support" while men need "admiration." Furthermore, a 2006 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that HHS provides little oversight of federally funded "abstinence-only" programs in regard to medical accuracy. The GAO also found that, by censoring important health information about condoms, CBAE grantees do not comply with section 317P(c) (2) of the Public Health Services Act.

In addition, the nation's leading medical and public-health organizations – including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine – do not support the "abstinence-only" approach. The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine has even criticized the federal government's investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in the programs as "poor fiscal and public health policy." We could not agree more.

For all these reasons, we urge you to reconsider the appropriation for the CBAE program for FY'09. With your help, we made great progress in holding the funding line level last year. Now, as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, we must continue the effort and scale back our nation's investment in this ineffective program. Our teens – and our taxpaying constituents – deserve nothing less.



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  • invalid-0

    I keep hearing about the 16 (now 17) states that have rejected the funding, but I can’t ever seem to find a complete list. Does anyone have a link to the states that have rejected it so far?

  • invalid-0

    is here:

    Iowa, California, Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona, Virginia, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Montana, Rhode Island, Colorado, Minnesota, Washington state, New Mexico, Pennsylvania.

    I realize that is only 16 states so as soon as I find information as to the remaining state to reject federal funding for abstinence education, I"ll post it. Thanks so much for your prompt!

    For more information:

  • invalid-0

    Thanks! I’ve been wondering about that for a while now. I am sad, but not at all surprised, to see that my state is not on the list. What passed for sex-ed at my daughter’s high school was horrifying. They were even discouraging the girls from getting the HPV vaccine because it wouldn’t protect them from all HPV strains–only abstinence could do that. So instead of getting the vaccine they should just wait until they are married to have sex (and I guess just pray that their new husband waited, too?). I’m sure I don’t even have to mention what they said about condoms. My daughter came home outraged. I honestly can’t believe this is legal.

  • invalid-0

    Amie — your list is not wholly accurate as both Pennsylvania and Washington state are not among these 17.

  • scott-swenson

    we the people continue to give our consent to a government that acts on ideology (GOP), or in fear of it (Congressional Dems), as opposed to sound science and public health strategies. There are many efforts afoot to distract the voters from issues that really matter, the day to to day issues like this that so obviously need to change. If we allow ourselves to get distracted again by the political side show, we are to blame.

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    Washington state applied for Title V funds but their application was rejected by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families because it didn’t fall into the overly strict and ideological framework that these funds demand of states. This is different – in kind – from the list of 17 that are currently not participating on a fiscal year basis.

  • invalid-0

    “It is only legal if…we the people continue to give our consent to a government that acts on ideology (GOP), or in fear of it (Congressional Dems)…”

    It’s not always that simple. At the time that this happened my state required abstinence *based* sex ed that included scientifically accurate information on birth control. Our school district just didn’t comply. The law also required that parents be notified about any sex-ed programs and be provided with the means to opt out. It also required that all materials used for sex-ed be made available to the public for viewing prior to their use.

    I called the school to complain and I was told that the school districts policy was to use abstinence only sex-ed programs. I asked why parents weren’t notified about the program before it took place and I was told that they “forgot”. I asked if the materials were available for viewing and I was told that they were the property of the woman who presents the program. I pointed out that all of these things were in violation of the law and I was told this by the school nurse (who was in charge of sex-ed for the school):
    “I know that, for my children, I want them to wait before becoming sexually active so that they do not suffer from the the negative physical and psychological effects of having sex before they are ready. Obviously you don’t feel the same way.”

    I called the local Planned Parenthood and they called the school and sent a letter to the editor of the local paper, but they said that was all that they could do.

    The other parents I talked to never even knew their kids had been to this so-called “STD Assembly”, let alone what they were told. I only found out because my daughter was furious when she got home. (We talk a lot about politics, sexism, classism, racism, homophobia, etc. in our home so she was well versed in the facts.) Even though the parents were upset, no one wanted to do much about it because it was a relatively small town and complaining just brought accusations that those parents didn’t care if their kids were sexually active or even that they “wanted” their kids to be sexually active.

    The next year the state switched over to abstinence only education so the school was no longer in violation of the law.

    I could advocate for new laws until I’m blue in the face, but it wouldn’t do me any good if the school district doesn’t bother to follow them even if they are passed.

  • scott-swenson

    If Congress stops funding these ab-only programs, at least they start to dry up and blow away. I agree, getting schools to do the right thing with evidenced-based comprehensive sex ed that works is a tall order, but making the fairy tale that ab-only programs are go away, should not even be in question at this point.

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    a link or information as to which states are included? I have not been able to find a comprehensive list. But the lists that I have found (in the links provided in my comments) do list Pennsylvania. I have found that in more than one place, in fact.

    It would be wonderful to have a clearer distinction. Thanks.

  • invalid-0

    I’m proud to say that I’m from the 8th District in VA and Jim Moran is my congressman. I grew up in upstate NY and comprehensive sex education (Health)is part of the NY state Secondary Ed curriculum. Parents who don’t want their kids exposed to such *radical* ideas can opt out, but I’m glad my parents made sure I had complete information to be able to make a more informed decision. I recently saw an article which stated that children who have comprehensive sex education are more likely to wait until they are older before having sex, and aren’t fewer teen pregnancies and STDs the goal we want?

  • invalid-0

    It’s New York.

  • invalid-0

    The 17th state, I mean. It’s New York