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Breaking News from the GAO: Abstinence-Only Programs Not Reviewed for Scientific Accuracy

"Efforts by HHS and states to assess the scientific accuracy of materials used in abstinence-until-marriage education programs have been limited. This is because ACF – which awards grants through two programs that account for the largest portion of federal spending on abstinence-until-marriage education – does not review its grantees' education materials for scientific accuracy and does not require grantees of either program to review their own materials for scientific accuracy."

Check RHRealityCheck for further analysis from Bill Smith of SIECUS coming soon!

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So Much for Governing from the Middle

Despite the public outcry last week for our government to work together and make progress, the White House steered clear of governing from the middle and bipartisanship in a new staffing move. Today the White House named Eric Keroack, MD as the new government official overseeing Title X, the program that provides contraceptive and other reproductive health services in every state of the nation to those in need. He'll start work on Monday.

This Keroack has had a career dedicated to abstinence-only programs and is an ardent anti-choice Ob-Gyn. He serves on the Medical Advisory Council for the Abstinence Clearinghouse and is a member of the Federal Expert Panel commissioned to define the guidelines for most governmental funding of abstinence education in our public schools — programs that have grown over recent years and have yet to be proven effective. He is the Medical Director of A Woman's Concern crisis pregnancy centers, an organization that posts only negative — and in some cases incorrect — information about abortion. Now, no Title X funds are used to provide abortion services. But is a man who misleads women in crisis pregnancies the kind of person who should be heading a program that is supposed to help people be informed about how they can decide if and when to have children?

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After the Election: Potential for Progress

Even as election results continue to come in from parts of the country, it’s clear that we are poised for some progress on some key sexual and reproductive health issues with the new 110th Congress. In addition, citizens in South Dakota, California and Oregon took policy making into their own hands – rejecting an effort to criminalize abortions and limit access to these services for young women. And Kansas rejected its attorney general Phil Kline, a notorious advocate for ending access to abortion.

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Character Counts. But What About Young People’s Health?

The irony of President Bush’s "National Character Counts Week" has not gone unnoticed amidst the flurry of scandal in our nation’s capitol… But another – and more substantive – scandal is that the GAO (Government Accountability Office) found that that the federal health agency under the President’s authority is knowingly trying to skirt the law and is putting the health of American citizens at risk.

The non-partisan GAO found that the Department of Health and Human Services is failing to enforce the law requiring that organizations receiving federal grants to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases to provide medically accurate information about the effectiveness of condoms. Somehow HHS doesn’t think that organizations receiving our tax dollars to provide abstinence-only-until-marriage programs need to provide this medically-accurate information. The GAO disagrees.

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Finding Loopholes – and We Knew It Was Coming

While debating changes to the laws overseeing bankruptcy filings in March 2005, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) offered an amendment that would have made it illegal for violent protesters, whether at abortion clinics or any other lawful business or service, from using bankruptcy law to avoid court-ordered financial consequences of their actions. The Senate defeated the amendment by a vote of 53 to 46, allowing anti-abortion protesters to file for bankruptcy instead of paying fines incurred from performing or threatening violent actions against reproductive health clinics, clinic workers, or patients. Opponents argued that it was unnecessary and organizations would not use the system to get out of their obligations.

But low and behold, the "organizations" using this kind of loophole are Roman Catholic Dioceses – filing for bankruptcy to avoid their obligations to individuals who were sexually abused by priests.

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Good News: Anti-Choice House Leaders Blew It

The Senate’s last vote before it headed home to campaign was an effort to push through legislation to limit young women’s access to abortion. But the procedural motion that required 60 votes failed by a vote of 57-42. Now, what surprised me is that the House had a chance last week to pass the Senate version of the bill, which would have sent it right off to President Bush to sign into law. They would have won. Case closed. But instead House leadership would only accept their own slightly more egregious bill than the Senate’s – forcing another vote in the Senate.

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Policy or Politics? An Anti-Choice Congress Fails It Base

I’m confused. On Tuesday supporters of limiting access to abortion – which a majority of the House of Representatives are – did not take the opportunity to make it a federal crime to take a minor to another state to have an abortion. The House (which already passed a version of this bill in April 2005) could have taken up the bill the Senate passed in July of this year, passed it and then sent it onto the President for signature. Slam dunk – it would have been law.

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25 Years Later These Words Still Ring True

HBO debuted the special "Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater" last night (see preview below). With all the moralizing we hear these days – especially about private human relations – I thought it was worth rereading these words that were spoken 25 years ago and yet are still relevant today:

"However, on religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their [img_assist|nid=575|title=Barry Goldwater|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=80|height=100]religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.

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Appeasing His Extremists

The Administration's decision to block the funding for UNFPA for the fifth year in a row is descriptive of its overall attitude: set your course and don't ever change. The standard operating procedure seems to be: make a decision, and no matter what the evidence shows, stay your original course.

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Hearing on PEPFAR’s Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Earmark: Highlights and Lowlights

Rep. Chris Shays held a hearing Wednesday to learn more about how the PEPFAR requirement that at least one third of prevention funding be directed to abstinence-only-until-marriage affects the ability of countries to effectively implement prevention initiatives and what steps can be taken to address concerns about limitations presented by the funding requirement.

Everyone agreed abstinence promotion – or more accurately delaying when people start to engage in sexual activity – should be part of prevention programming. The question at hand is whether there should be a requirement for a specific amount of money to be spent on this one aspect of programming.

No one could articulate how the earmark benefits HIV prevention programs. So, will Congress change the requirement?

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