Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Finance Committee Preserves Abstinence-Only Funding

Over at the Senate Finance Committee, Republicans who have expended a lot of energy claiming that the federal government can't do anything right won a vote preserving $50 million a year for "abstinence-only" education programs. 

President Obama’s first budget eliminated federal funding for such programs, instead putting money into “evidence-based” teen pregnancy prevention programs. But now, writes The New Republic's Suzy Khimm, "the Finance Committee vote could mean that Bush’s legacy will continue well past Obama’s first term, funding the so-called Title V block grants to states through 2014."

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the sponsor of the amendment that won by a 12-11 vote, appeared to recognize the dichotomy inherent in his efforts.

"“My first choice would be to not have the federal government involved in any way in these types of education programs,” Hatch said in a press statement. “However, if the federal government is going to spend money on educating people about sexual decisions, the absence of an abstinence only education program has negative health consequences for our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.”

Khimm put it this way: "In other words, if the federal government is going to go there, we might as well pile on."

A 2007 survey of more than 2,000 teenagers carried out by a research company on behalf of Congress found that the half of the sample given abstinence-only education displayed exactly the same predilection for sex as those who had received conventional sex education in which contraception was discussed. Twenty-three states currently have rejected abstinence-only funds, even in the midst of a deep recession that has left states starving for funding.

Immediately after the Hatch amendment vote, the committee also voted 14-9 to approve an amendment sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that supported a more comprehensive approach to sex education passed. The amendment will provide funding to a wide range of teen wellness programs, including those dealing with contraception and HIV/AIDS. Those funds will support abstinence education programs that are deemed “medically accurate and complete.”


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