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Abstinence-Only Funds Still Alive and Kicking in 09 Budget

Emily Douglas

Yesterday, Congressional Democrats took a tentative step towards eliminating abstinence-only funding with a $14 million reduction. That still leaves $95 million in taxpayer money thrown down the drain.

Politicians shouldn’t need the storied
scalpel to slice away at abstinence-only funding — the program is an
unmitigated disaster, proven ineffective in study after study.  Sex
education advocates are calling for a complete "zeroing out" of all
abstinence-only funds — those directly granting programs, through the
Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program, through the
Adolescent Family Life Act, and through Title V, which sends block
grants to states directly (it should tell you something about the
unpopularity of the program that 16 states have turned down Title V
funds even as state budgets reel).  Yesterday, Congressional Democrats
took a tentative step towards eliminating the funding by cutting the
CBAE budget by 13%, a $14 million reduction, in their 2009 spending
bill.  That still leaves $95 million in taxpayer money swirling down the

But advocates say that it’s a step in the right direction, and that the 2010 budget, Obama’s first, can include complete cuts.  "Any cut is a good first step," said Jen Heitel Yakush, Assistant
Director of Policy at SIECUS.  In fact, the Senate had cut funding for
CBAE by even more, $28.5 million; the House had level-funded it.  So
the 2009 budget splits the difference. 
"We recognize that the budget for fiscal year 09 was decided before the
new political reality," says Heitel Yakush.  "We are still expecting
Obama to take a lead on this issue.  We are looking for his first
budget to zero out funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage."

"The reality is that we see it as some movement," says Marcela Howell,
Vice-President of Advocates for Youth.  "We would have hoped for a
stronger cut, but we’re already almost through fiscal year 2009 and are
looking to 2010.  That will be the new President’s first budget."

CBAE, the largest abstinence-only
funding stream, may be the hardest to kill off.  Title V, which issues
block grants directly to states, is set to expire in June of 2009, and
advocates hope it won’t be reauthorized.  The Adolescent Family Life
Act, the first abstinence-only program — born of opposition to the
family planning provisions to Title X — is the smallest stream of
funding, and was flat funded this year.

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Eliminating abstinence-only funding is only half the
battle, however, say advocates.  They are also looking for Obama to
take a leadership role in pushing funding of comprehensive sexuality
education, as he promised during his campaign. 
Rep. Barbara Lee and Sen. Frank Lautenberg have committed to reintroducing the REAL Act in this session, which would allocate funding for states to teach age-appropriate, medically-accurate sex ed.

Both Title V and the REAL Act, which would authorize funding for
comprehensive sex ed programs, are in the House Energy and Commerce
Committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, who has shown himself to be an
ardent opponent of abstinence-only.  Waxman commissioned the first
Congressional hearings
on abstinence-only in April of 2008.