Health reform bill includes $250M for new abstinence-only programs

By Gavin Dahl
Sunday, March 28, 2010 16:57 EDT
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Buried in the landmark health care bill passed by Democrats is $250 million over 5 years for state programs to try to convince young people to wait until marriage for sex.

Proponents of abstinence-only education are thrilled, but there is little evidence this money will be effective in fighting pregnancy or HIV.

“We’re very happy to see that funding will continue so the important sexual health message of risk avoidance will reach American teens,” Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, a D.C.-based lobbying group, told Washington Post. “What better place to see such an important health issue addressed than in the health legislation?”

“To spend a quarter-billion dollars on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that have already been proven to fail is reckless and irresponsible,” James Wagoner of the Washington group Advocates for Youth responded in the same piece from Washington Post. “When on top of that you add the fact that this puts the health and lives of young people at risk, this becomes outrageous.”

Abstinence programs received roughly $150 million a year during the previous administration, but independent evaluations concluded that the long decline in teen pregnancies was reversing. So Obama’s first budget effectively excluded abstinence funding. The speculation is that the new $250 million, introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was left in as part of the effort to win conservative Democratic support.

The Secular Coalition for America, a national advocacy organization representing secular Americans, expressed its deep disapproval over this reversal.

“2009 marked the first year in nearly three decades that federal birth control funding was focused unequivocally on science-based sex education. No federal funds were spent on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs–programs not supported by scientific consensus. We are greatly disappointed that health care reform was used as a vehicle for extending this theocratically-motivated program which ignores science,” said Executive Director Sean Faircloth.

Blogger Michael Petrelis, a gay rights activist, is curious how certain progressive cabinet officials feel about this aspect of health reform, but isn’t holding his breath waiting for a response:

I’d sure like to hear from gay White House staffers Brian Bond, the gay liaison, and Jeff Crowley, the head of the Office of National AIDS Policy, about the supposed benefits behind allocating so much money for abstinence programs long-debunked by scientific research. Anyone care to wager that Bond and Crowley don’t say a thing about this outrageous waste of money?

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