Will Democrats Stand Up for Sex Education?

Marcela Howell

Like most progressive activists, I viewed the results of the November 7, 2006 election with joy. Finally the issue of comprehensive sex education would be under the control of elected officials whom I trusted. Well, guess what? Nothing changed.

Like most progressive activists, I viewed the results of the November 7, 2006 election with joy. Finally, I thought, the issue I had worked on for over eight years – – comprehensive sex education – – would be under the control of elected officials whom I trusted.

Finally, I thought, the REAL Act, the bill to provide federal funding to states to implement comprehensive sex education programs, might actually see the light of day instead of languishing in committees as it had since December of 2001.

Finally, I thought, there would be formal hearings in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the numerous studies and reports showing that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs don't work and highlighting the fact that a conservative Congress had wasted over $1.5 billion to support their right-wing cronies.

Finally, I thought, the pseudo-scientists pushed as "experts" by the Bush Administration would be exposed for the quacks and charlatans they really were.

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And finally, I thought, all the funding for these ineffective and harmful abstinence-only-until-marriage programs would be eliminated. Ended! Stopped!

Finally! Finally! Finally!

Well, guess what? None of this happened.

Instead, the House of Representatives voted to increase the community-based abstinence education (CBAE) programs by $28 million. People pointed the finger at the tyrannical chair of the House Appropriations Committee, David Obey (WI). The old "Obey will be Obey" excuse was repeated ad nauseam. But there were 36 other Democrats on the Appropriations Committee who had a hand in this outrage.

To be fair, not all Dems fell down on the job.

Led by Senator Harkin (IA) and Lautenberg (NJ), the Senate voted to cut the same CBAE programs by $28 million. A short-lived victory, as the Senate caved to the House during conference committee.

It was only after President Bush vetoed the Labor-Health and Human Services Appropriations bill that the Democrats withdrew the $28 million increase. But did they go with the Senate version that cut the funding? Not a chance, they funded these ineffective programs at the same level as the conservative GOP majority had when it was in control.

In the aftermath of congressional deal making, some supporters of comprehensive sex education viewed level funding as a victory – – "At least it wasn't an increase."

But it's not a victory – – it's an insult.

It's an insult to sound public health policy, to scientific accuracy, and to the vast majority of American parents who believe that their teens should receive complete and accurate sexual health information.

So, here we are – – exactly 425 days since the Democrats won control of Congress and what do we have to show for this leadership when it comes to honest sex education . . .

  • The REAL Act still languishes in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension and the House Energy and Commerce Committees.

  • There have been zero hearings on the gender biases presented by some abstinence-only programs, or the discriminatory language inherent in the A-H definition of abstinence education, or the scientifically flawed information these programs give teens about condom effectiveness in preventing HIV or unwanted pregnancy.

  • And worst – – the Democrats continue the federal funding for these failed abstinence-only programs. Besides level-funding for the CBAE program, both the House and the Senate also extended funding for Title V instead of simply letting the reauthorization of this core ab-only program lapse in July, 2007 as scheduled.

If you talk to some Hill staffers, they will tell you that there was no "community" (i.e., advocacy groups) will to push these issues. If you talk with the advocacy organizations, they'll tell you that there was no real "political" (i.e., elected officials) will to take on difficult issues.

Either way you slice it, over 25 million American teens are the losers.

2008 is a presidential election year and many of us are counting the days until a Bush Administration is just a few paragraphs in our history books. But a Democratic White House and a Democratic-controlled Congress means little if the "community" will and the "political" will don't add up to real change. And real change means Honest Sex Education in America's schools. Finally!

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