Today, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Senator Frank Lautenburg (D-NJ) reintroduced the Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act. The bill would kill the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program and funnel the money into more comprehensive, evidence-based programs designed to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
If it seems to you that we’ve already eliminated Title V, you’re not wrong, yet somehow this program refuses to die. Title V was originally introduced under President Clinton as part of welfare reform. It funneled $50 million dollars in block grants to states. States that chose to accept the money had to match each $4 from the federal government with $3 of state funds (or in-kind donations) and were then required to provide or fund abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that met a strict 8-point definition. Among other things programs were required to tell young people that “sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects,” and that “bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society.”
Advocates for sexuality education worked tirelessly to get rid of the funding and the programs it created, all of which were clearly based on ideology and not fact. Not surprisingly, study after study found such programs to be ineffective; a 10-year government study found that these programs did not stop or even delay adolescent sex, which was what they were supposedly trying to do. Also, not surprisingly, under the Bush administration Title V remained safe and additional, larger pots of money became available for these strict programs. (These other federal funding streams have since been eliminated.)
Though the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding was never officially repealed by Congress, it was allowed to expire at the end of June 2009. At that time, nearly half the states had rejected this money because of the ineffective and restrictive nature of the programs it supported as well as the substantial investment of state resources it required. Nonetheless the program was resurrected in 2010’s health care reform legislation and is once again set to receive $50 million dollars per year for a 5-year period. Thirty states have applied for this new round of Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funds.
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If this new act becomes law, it will transfer all of the funds from the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program to the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), a new program also created through health care reform legislation, which provides $75 million per year to states for comprehensive sex education. Programs funded by PREP must provide young people with complete, medically accurate, and age-appropriate sex education in order to help them reduce their risk of unintended pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and other STIs. Programs must also address life skills so that young people can make responsible decisions and lead safe and healthy lives.
The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), one of the groups that fought for years to end Title V and the other restrictive abstinence-only-until-marriage funding streams, supports this new legislation. As its president, Monica Rodriguez, explains, “The focus of government this year needs to be on increasing the health and well-being of our nation’s young people by smartly investing in health education programs that work and eliminating wasteful programs that don’t serve any purpose but to line the pockets of special interests. Eliminating the failed and ineffective Title V abstinence-only programs so we can concentrate on bringing real, comprehensive sexuality education to young people is a good step in achieving these goals.”
Unfortunately with the new majority in Congress, SIECUS and other advocates for comprehensive, evidence-based sexuality education are facing an uphill battle to keep funding for programs like the ones supported by PREP and ensure that ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage programs stay dead and buried.