Senate Approves Minimal Increase for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs, Includes Language Directing Review of www.4parents.gov

On July 14th, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee granted an increase of only $1.8 million for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs when it passed the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education spending bill, by a vote of 27-0.  This increase is far below the President's request of $38.6 million and well below the House's increase of $11 million to the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) account. 

Prior to the hearing on the bill, over 250 organizations sent a letter to committee members expressing their strong opposition to any increase in funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. The letter, spearheaded by SIECUS, urged Senators to “spend no new money on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs,” and represented the largest collective advocacy voice ever assembled on this issue, bringing together national groups as well as organizations representing nearly every state in the country and the District of Columbia.

William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS, said, “we are pleased that the funding increase was so minimal and that Senators are finally listening to their constituents across the country and paying attention to the overwhelming research detailing the medical inaccuracies and potentially harmful effects of these programs.”

Supporters of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have been unusually quiet on the recent funding decisions. “In past years abstinence-only-until-marriage organizations were as vocal as they were victorious,” Smith said. “Perhaps this new-found silence on their core issue is part of a realization that the days of unfettered access to government funding are over,” he added.

On another note, to the surprise and delight of advocates for comprehensive sexuality education, the Appropriations Committee report included language, put forth by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), directing the Department of Health and Human Services to review www.4parents.gov. The report noted that “it has come to the Committee's attention that an independent study reviewed 4parents.gov... [and] found numerous examples of inaccurate information.  The Committee is aware that this website was designed by outside contractors, not by the Department's public health officials.  The Committee directs the Department to review the findings of the study, undertake a review of the website by Departmental public health and scientific experts, and make any necessary changes to conform with scientific evidence.”1

This call for review comes on the heels of a letter sent on July 13th to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Michael Leavitt by the Government Reform Office on behalf of Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA). The letter outlined the research of national experts in infectious disease, adolescent sexuality, reproductive health, and adolescent development who found that the website contains multiple inaccuracies, misleading information, and biases.

Waxman's letter amplifies advocacy efforts coordinated by SIECUS in which over 150 organizations and nearly 1,000 individuals across the country have continuously contacted the Secretary demanding a review of this problematic resource.

There may be more debate on this if the full Senate votes on the Labor, Health, and Human Services and Education spending bill in the fall, however, there is the strong possibility that the Senate will become backlogged with the Supreme Court nomination and other items. The Senate may then decide to wrap any incomplete spending bills into an omnibus package which would mean that the funding increase for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs would automatically be between $1.8 and $11 million.

References

1. FY 2006 Labor-HHS-Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Managers Package

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