Lawmakers Ask Obey to End Ab-Only Spending

Amie Newman

Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA) and 76 lawmakers have sent House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey a letter requesting that funding for failed abstinence-only sexual education programs be left out of this year’s Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Bill.

Seventy-six members of Congress are saying enough is enough. Failed abstinence-only programs do not deserve to be funded through tax-payer dollars any longer.

Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA) led a group of 76 lawmakers in sending a letter (pdf) to House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (also a Democrat) urging him to delete any funds for “failed abstinence-only sexual education programs” from FY’09’s Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), one of the signers of the letter, said, "In a country with the highest teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates in the industrialized world, we have a responsibility to ensure that our youth has access to medically accurate, comprehensive sex education with a history of success. Study after study has proven that abstinence-only education simply does not work and we cannot afford to waste millions of taxpayer dollars on programs that we know to be a failure."

There are now 17 states to have turned down federal abstinence-only funding simply because state leaders, legislators and public health departments in those states have determined that abstinence-only programs are ineffective at teaching our young people about how to care for their sexual health and bodies.

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The evidence that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have completely failed our young people is staggering. Our federal government’s own report offers conclusive information that these programs do not work. Leading scientists and academics from across this country have offered their years of expertise and research in this letter to plead with our government to stop funding programs that endanger our young people’s health. Finally, despite having poured more than one billion dollars into these programs we must face this recent news: one out of every four young women is infected with a sexually transmitted infection in this country.

Is this the direction we want to continue heading? Rep. Jim Moran and his colleagues say no:

You can also read the PDF of this letter.

March 19, 2008

Dear Chairman Obey:

As you begin work on the Fiscal Year 2009 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill, we urge you to reconsider funding for the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program, and to devote those dollars to other, more effective programs. We thank you for granting the program no new increase in last year's final bill; that was an important first step.

As you know, more than $1 billion has been spent on "abstinence-only" programs in the last decade and annual funding for these programs now stands at an all-time high of $176 million. The CBAE account alone has grown from $20 million appropriated in FY'01 to $113 million appropriated this year.

However, numerous reports have found that the "abstinence-only" approach simply does not work. For example, in April 2007, the independent research firm Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. released a study – commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – concluding that students in "abstinence-only" programs are no more likely to abstain from sex, delay initiation of sex, or have fewer sexual partners than students who did not participate. Moreover, 13 states have evaluated their federally funded "abstinence-only" programs and not a single one found positive, long-term impact. In fact, in some cases young people who participated in the programs actually increased their sexual activity. As a result of these and other evaluations, at least 15 states have rejected federal "abstinence-only" funding.

Not only do these programs not help our teens abstain from sex, many are rife with scientific inaccuracies, factual errors, and troubling biases that put our teens at greater risk for unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. A 2004 House Government Reform Committee report found that more than two-thirds of CBAE grantees used curricula that "contain false, misleading or distorted information about reproductive health," such as that condoms fail more often than they actually do, that sweat and tears can transmit HIV, and that women need "financial support" while men need "admiration." Furthermore, a 2006 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that HHS provides little oversight of federally funded "abstinence-only" programs in regard to medical accuracy. The GAO also found that, by censoring important health information about condoms, CBAE grantees do not comply with section 317P(c) (2) of the Public Health Services Act.

In addition, the nation's leading medical and public-health organizations – including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine – do not support the "abstinence-only" approach. The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine has even criticized the federal government's investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in the programs as "poor fiscal and public health policy." We could not agree more.

For all these reasons, we urge you to reconsider the appropriation for the CBAE program for FY'09. With your help, we made great progress in holding the funding line level last year. Now, as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, we must continue the effort and scale back our nation's investment in this ineffective program. Our teens – and our taxpaying constituents – deserve nothing less.



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