On April 21, more than 70 Democratic and Republican members of the House of Representatives introduced the Family Life Education Act, H.R. 4182.
The legislation, which was also introduced in the 107th Congress (H.R. 3469) in 2001, seeks to provide $100 million in federal funding annually for five years for states to conduct programs that include "education on both abstinence and contraception for the prevention of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS." The bill does not require states to provide a match to receive the funds.
If it passes, this would be the only federal funding stream dedicated to comprehensive sexuality education. In contrast, the federal government currently has three federal funding streams for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs which represent a total federal investment of over $140 million in Fiscal Year 2004. President Bush has requested that this amount be doubled for Fiscal Year 2005.
The Family Life Education Act provides a nine-point definition of family life education to which funded programs would be required to adhere. Among these requirements are that programs: be age appropriate and medically accurate; not teach or promote religion; teach abstinence as the only sure way to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases; encourage family communication about sexuality between parent and child; and present the health benefits and side effects of all contraceptives.
"All teens, regardless of whether or not they are sexually active, deserve open, honest, and medically accurate information about their sexual health in order to make responsible and informed decisions about their health and their futures," said Tamara Kreinin, President and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS). "The introduction of the Family Life Education Act is an important step in ensuring that young people receive the life-saving information they need," Kreinin continued.
"Prevention starts with education," said lead co-sponsor Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA). "We must deal with the reality that close to 90 percent of Americans have intercourse before marriage and that about 50 percent of teens are sexually active by the time they leave high school. And we must also remember that an average of two young people in the United States is infected with HIV every hour of the day. If we are truly committed to reducing unwanted teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates, we must teach our teens about using contraceptives once they make the choice to become sexually active. This bill would do that."
H.R. 4182 also includes a strong and appropriately funded evaluation component. The evaluations would be conducted at both the national and state levels. The bill provides ten percent of the overall program's budget for evaluation-the percentage that social scientists contend is needed to adequately fund a thorough, longitudinal study focused on behavioral outcomes.
While the federal government has funded an evaluation of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs which has not yet been released, this evaluation does not measure behavioral impact of the programs. "Politics and Science in the Bush Administration," a report released by the House minority (Democratic) staff of the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform's special investigations division, notes that in 2000, under the Clinton Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) developed "meaningful, scientifically sound outcome measures to assess whether [abstinence-only] programs achieved their intended purposes." Then, in 2001, the Bush Administration replaced those measures with a "set of standards that does not include any real outcomes."
The Bush Administration measures include attendance and attitudes of young people-measures that are not scientifically valid-while the Clinton Administration measures included tracking pregnancy and sexual activity. By changing the performance measures, the report says, the Bush Administration can more easily assert that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are effective without any scientifically valid data to back up their assertions.
The Family Life Education Act has served as a model for legislation in several states, including Rhode Island, Maine, Minnesota, and Washington State. The Family Life Education Act has also been included as part of a larger prevention package in the House of Representatives. The bi-partisan Pro-Choice Caucus introduced the Putting Prevention First Act of 2004 as part of the commemoration of the March for Women's Lives which took place on April 25, 2004. This legislative initiative seeks to expand access to preventative health care services and education programs in order to help reduce unintended pregnancy, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS, and the number of abortions.
Commenting on the bill, Tamara Kreinin said, "SIECUS fully supports this initiative and its inclusion of the wide-range of reproductive and sexual health care components that are critical to any responsible prevention package."