Late-Night Committee Votes Yield Success for Sex Ed Programs within Health Care Reform

Jodi Jacobson

Advocates for evidence-based, comprehensive sex education realized two major gains in the health care reform process last night, defeating an amendment to the House Energy and Commerce Committee Affordable Health Choices Act that would have extended discredited abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, and passing another amendment introduced by Congresswman Lois Capps creating a Healthy Teen Initiative.

Last night, as part of the broader process of health care reform in the House of Representatives, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by California Congressman Henry Waxman, met to continue debate and consideration of amendments to the Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, a copy of the House version of and amendments to which can be found here (including votes on each amendment).

Two important amendments to the bill were introduced in Committee.  One of these, submitted by Nebraska Congressman Lee Terry, would have extended Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage progams through 2012.  The Title V abstinence-only program, which provided funding for now-widely discredited programs, expired this year.  Terry’s attempt to extend it failed by a 3-vote margin, 29 to 26, mostly along party lines.  Three Democrats, Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak, Louisiana Congressman Charlie Melancon, and Georgia Congressman John Barrow voted in favor of extending Title V.

Congresswoman Lois Capps introduced an amendment intended to create a Healthy Teen Initiative, expanding on the narrower teen pregnancy prevention initiative originally proposed in President Obama’s budget.  This amendment, which passed 33 to 23 on a recorded vote, alloacates $50 million dollars in funding for a new program through which states can fund
evidence-based interventions to reduce teen pregnancy, reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections, and comprehensively address a range of teen sexuality issues, and build life-long skills to promote good sexual and reproductive health throughout a person’s life-cycle. 

A large coalition of public health and human rights advocacy groups have been working for the past 3 months to expand on the President’s proposal and they have focused their efforts on both appropriations bills and health reform proposals to establish the policy framework and lock in more funding for comprehensive programs.  Last night’s votes were hailed by many. "This is a major step forward and will get the states the money they need to improve adolescent sexual health outcomes across the board," says Bill Smith, Vice President for Public Policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), one of the coalition’s leading groups. "And now this program is solidly part of the healthcare reform package making its way
through the House."

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James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth and another leader of the coalition, stated: "This was a vote to bring science back into government.  By promoting evidence-based teen pregnancy and STI prevention
programs, the Committee, under the leadership of Representative Waxman,
has taken an important step toward ensuring young people get the
critical sexual health information they need to make responsible
decisions about their lives."

 

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