Congress Increasing Funding for Ab-Only?

Ellen Marshall

The latest news is that the House Labor-Health and Human Services subcommittee is planning on spending $27 million more than last year (a total of $140 million) on abstinence-only programs.

Thinking globally doesn't seem to apply locally for the Congress. In the same week, the House Appropriations Committee seems to be of two minds on ensuring that all people have the information and services they need to decide when they do begin to have sexual relations, and when they do, to be able to protect themselves against unintended pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

While yesterday the House Foreign Operations subcommittee approved legislation that enables global HIV prevention programs to determine at the country level the most effective and relevant mix of services needed by individuals there, the word is that the House Labor-Health and Human Services subcommittee is planning on spending $27 million more than last year (a total of $140 million) on abstinence-only programs (specifically for CBAE—Community Based Abstinence Education program—as early as tomorrow). Yes, the same programs that time and again have been proven to have NO impact on changing the sexual behaviors of young people—but can create increased risk because they are refused a breadth of knowledge on the subject.

It is unconscionable for the Democratic leadership to play into the politics of abstinence only programming, rather than paying attention to the public health evidence. Even more disturbing—in a time of limited resources for public health programs—that the United States think about throwing good money after bad by adding funding to these programs. Just take a look at the states—coast to coast and parts in between—that are rejecting this kind of programming. So why spend more money?

Certainly if the Congressional leadership can see the benefit of ensuring flexibility in international programs to enable the best public health outcomes, the same principle should be applied to domestic programs.

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News

House GOP Tries to Eliminate Public Funding for Family Planning

Emily Crockett

The impact on the nearly 4.6 million people who depend on Title X for their health-care needs would be “devastating."

A month after voting to ban abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, House Republicans went after reproductive health again on Tuesday by trying to cut all funding for a key federal family planning program.

The House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee’s new budget proposal would zero out funds for Title X, the only federal program devoted to providing low-income people with family planning services, birth control, well-woman visits, cancer screenings, screening for sexually transmitted infections, and other preventive services.

The bill would also cut comprehensive teen pregnancy prevention programs by 81 percent, while doubling funding for unproven abstinence-only teen sex education programs.

The impact on the nearly 4.6 million people who depend on Title X for their health-care needs would be “devastating,” said Clare Coleman, president of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association.

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“For many of these women and men, a Title X-funded health center is their only access point to the health system and the only health care they receive all year,” Coleman said in a statement.

Title X grants serve a highly vulnerable population that is 90 percent women, half Black or Latino, and mostly uninsured or young. The grants go to a network of more than 4,100 health and community service agencies. Centers that are funded by Title X are significantly better at providing women with the most effective contraceptive methods, like intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants.

The House subcommittee released the bill ahead of a Tuesday markup session, which observers said is not typical procedure. Bloomberg News reports that the Labor-HHS bill “rarely makes a stand-alone appearance” outside of the larger appropriations bill, and that the bill is “designed to pick multiple fights” with Democrats and the Obama administration.

“It’s a giant finger in the eye of women’s rights, and is specifically designed to be so,” a House Democratic aide told Rewire.

Title X funds can’t be used for abortion care. But because about a quarter of the funds go to Planned Parenthood affiliates, anti-choice Republicans have used Title X as a political football for years, starting in 2011 when the GOP threatened a government shutdown over the issue.

“If Republican leaders in Congress think they can take away millions of women’s access to health care and shut down programs that are reducing teen pregnancy without one hell of a fight, they have another thing coming,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards said in a statement.

Polling shows that 81 percent of Americans support continuing Title X’s efforts, and research shows that investing in family planning saves up to $7 for every dollar spent.

Commentary Sexual Health

We’ve Been Here Before: Congress Quietly Increases Funding for Abstinence-Only Programs

Nicole Cushman, Debra Hauser & Monica Rodriguez

The bipartisan $200 billion Medicare “doc fix” and health program funding bill includes a two-year extension of the Title V Sec. 510 program, which funds the implementation of ineffective and stigmatizing abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

Last week, Congress overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan $200 billion Medicare “doc fix” and health program funding bill. The bill did not pass without its fair share of controversy. But one of its provisions seemed to have escaped public scrutiny: a two-year extension of the Title V Sec. 510 program that funds the implementation of ineffective and stigmatizing abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs. The bill also increases funding toward the grants by $25 million annually. What is more, a new provision in the bill requires unused Title V AOUM funds to be made available to states implementing programs that adhere to strict, eight-point—and harmful—definitions of abstinence education; such funds previously would have been returned to the general treasury.

Encouragingly, the bill also included a two-year extension of the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), which funds adolescent sexual health initiatives across the country that include information on a broad range of topics, such as abstinence, birth control, HIV, other STIs, healthy relationships, and life skills. The creation of PREP in 2010 represented a positive step in a new direction for the federal government, after years of funding failed abstinence education programs. However, the extension of PREP does not negate the damage done by continued investments—and now an expansion—of ineffective and damaging AOUM programs. In fact, given the existing funding and the fact that the Title V AOUM program requires states to match federal dollars spent this move could translate to more than $130 million per year in public money wasted on AOUM programs.

Decades of research demonstrate that AOUM programs fail to achieve their stated goal of promoting abstinence among young people. What is more, with no requirement for AOUM programs to provide information on condoms and contraception, these initiatives withhold life-saving information about sexuality-related topics—including HIV—thus failing to equip young people with the information and skills they need to ensure healthy decision making throughout their lives. By contrast, more comprehensive approaches to sex ed that include information about condoms and contraception in addition to abstinence have a proven track record of helping young people to delay having sex, and increasing use of condoms and contraception among those who do become sexually active.

Make no mistake: This legislation continues decades of efforts to divert limited federal resources into programs that have been proven to be ineffective and to denigrate, and ostracize youth who are already sexually active; who are engaged in same-sex relationships; and who are survivors of sexual abuse or assault. Last week’s vote leaves those of us who have advocated for years for comprehensive sex education with a sense of déjà vu. Indeed, we have been making many of the same arguments about the unethical nature of AOUM programs for years.

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However, what sets today’s debates apart from those of the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s is something more subtle and sinister than the blatant imposition of moralizing, stigmatizing views on our young people. Recently, proponents of AOUM programs have quietly appropriated sexual health terms such as “medically accurate,” “age-appropriate,” “evidence-based,” and “personal responsibility.” They have repackaged language of old bills and talking points using more scientific terminology. This co-optation of language is particularly egregious and shocking, given the long history of empirical evidence that has proven AOUM programs to be ineffective, from the government’s own meta-analysis in 2007 to the more recent findings of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and additional studies.

Since 1982, more than $1.7 billion in federal money has been spent on programs that are damaging to young people and fail to provide opportunities to learn vital information and skills that they need. In the past, a collective outcry from young people, parents, educators, and medical and public health professionals has been successful in reducing spending on AOUM programs. Now, in 2015, Congress has passed the first-ever increase in the 18-year-old Title V program. We’ve been here before, and we won’t stand for the perpetuation of these damaging programs. Our young people deserve better.

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