Yesterday, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations voted to increase federal funding for community based abstinence-only education programs (CBAE) in this country by an almost unprecedented $27.8 million, "despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs it supports do not work" according to a press release from SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States).
In 2006, the committee approved a bill that would keep funding for abstinence-only programs steady but did not increase the amount.
In fact, just last month, the government released a report commissioned on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services outlining clear evidence that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs do not delay sexual activity at a significant rate for young people, and do not result in higher rates of abstinence than their peers who are taught medically accurate, fact-based sexuality education.
So, what happened?
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According to some reports, the increase was a compromise in a bill that also seeks to increase funding by over $10 billion for other domestic programs — a bill that Democrats are concerned Bush would veto without the abstinence-only olive branch. The appropriations committee also approved an identical $27.8 million increase for Title X — the public health program that funds federal family planning programs.
James Wagoner's post for Rewire, published on Daily Kos yesterday, drew hundreds of comments – from those irate with the Democrats seemingly endless stream of "compromises" to the more moderate who supported this kind of a concession for the results promised:
"Caving in to Bush on time tables out of fear of criticism (from people who will never vote Democratic, anyway) was pathetic, but I hoped it was a one-time lack of values and conviction. But now you are caving in on the scientifically-debunked anti-health measure of abstinence-only education. Is there no low you wont [sic] stoop to in order to avoid angering the big, bad conservatives? What's next? Caving in on global warming? Environmental protection? Food and drug protection? Do you have any intention of living up to any of your promises or making any of the changes that were the reason you were elected to office? Or was the idea that you would use your brain and pass intelligent, forward-thinking legislation just a trick to get us to vote for you?"
"Abstinence-only education is a hugely bad idea, and is something that needs to be ended yesterday, at least in terms of federal funding. But I can also see the utility in using $27 million funding it for now as a means to get through $10 billion — more than 370 times that amount — that also funds other kinds of sex education and broader access, for example…I hate that we're in a position to have to do this kind of dealing in the first place, but there you go. Mr. Unpopular has no qualms about whipping out the veto pen."
Is this just more of the weak-excuse-for-a-stance "middle-ground" that Hillary proposed when talking about abortion? Are we willing to give this "special consideration" with the understanding that politics is really just a big game?
Abstinence-only funding does not begin and end in a House chamber in Washington, DC. The funding is a stream that flows from public school to public school throughout this country ending up in the hearts and minds of the young people who are unlucky enough to be the recipients of this kind of ideology-based "education." So while we all debate the merits of whether or not this kind of a negotiation is really necessary, our young people are still left without the tools they need to protect their health and navigate their sexual lives successfully.
*Update: According to Advocates for Youth, the ranking Republican member, Rep. James T. Walsh, R-N.Y., praised Democratic Chair David Obey and his legislation, saying something to the effect that he wouldn't have done much differently himself. In a recent Congressional Quarterly magazine, Walsh is quoted as saying:
'Dave is a very pragmatic guy,' said Walsh. “Based on what I know, I think he’s done a pretty good job…'
James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, has this to say about the Republican praise, "With $140 million for failed abstinence-only programs, no wonder he’s excited! David Obey and the other Democrats on the appropriations committee did what the Republicans themselves couldn’t do when they were in charge the last three years- navigate a 25% increase in abstinence-only funding through the sub-committee! I’m certain that the thousands of young people that will continue to receive incomplete and inaccurate information about their sexual health will be very reassured."