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Massachusetts to Change Use of Title V Funds

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) has changed the use of the state's Title V funding despite the state legislature's rejection of his proposal. By working directly with the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Governor Romney has ensured the funds will now put abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the state's classrooms.

Governor Romney's push began in 2005, when he introduced the Massachusetts ' Fiscal Year 2005 budget with language that stated “funds dedicated to the abstinence education project in the department of public health shall be used solely for classroom education, and not for advertising or media purchases.” The Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage grant requires states to provide three state-raised dollars or the equivalent in services for every four federal dollars received. The state match may be provided in part or in full by local groups. In the past, Massachusetts ' Title V funds were used in a media campaign that encouraged parent-child conversations about sexuality.

Both houses of the Massachusetts legislature rejected this bill, but the explicit action of the legislature proved irrelevant to the Governor. At a press conference to announce the change, the Governor stated that the funds would be given to A Woman's Concern, an organization that runs crisis pregnancy centers in Massachusetts and already receives a grant for nearly $1.5 million from HHS through the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) funding stream.

Parents and students at a school where A Women's Concern's program is already used reacted with apprehension, “A Woman's Concern uses an abstinence-only until marriage sex ed curriculum,” said Mindy Fried, whose daughter attends the school. She explained, “they're driven by a right-wing, Christian agenda, which to me is problematic. They talk about condom use being ineffective, so the curriculum is really misguiding kids. Most parents of course want their teenagers to delay sexual experiences, but that's not a reality. We need a curriculum that's broader than abstinence-only.” A student at the school shared her experience, “they were comparing sex to fire and telling students to keep sex in the fireplace. Looking back on it now, we were treated like children. I feel we were mature enough to learn about other things.”1

State advocates accused the governor of misleading the public by claiming that the course is not an abstinence-only-until-marriage program. Patricia Quinn, director of public policy at the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, pointed out that while the Governor claims the new program will be conducted in addition to existing sexuality education, in reality, state budget cuts have eliminated $28 million a year for health education in schools and many schools may end up only having the abstinence-only-until-marriage program.2

This may be exactly what A Woman's Concern and its backers are hoping for. Before receiving federal money, A Woman's Concern's abstinence-only-until-marriage program was privately funded by the Gerard Health Foundation. Ray Neary, director of education for the Gerard Health Foundation and former director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, told Massachusetts News that his job was to introduce abstinence-only-until-marriage programs to Massachusetts schools and “help rid the state of those sex education courses that really promote unbridled sex.”3 The same sexuality education programs that are being cut, however, have been credited with helping Massachusetts retain one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the country.

Supporters of comprehensive sexuality education note that the governor's change comes at the same time that he is attempting to shore up his conservative credentials as he campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination.

References

  1. Andrea Estes and Tracy Jan, “State widens teaching of abstinence: Romney gives faith group sex ed grant,” Boston Globe, 21 April 2006, accessed 21 April 2006 <http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/
    articles/2006/04/21/state_widens_teaching_of_abstinence?mode=PF
    >.
  2. Ibid.
  3. “Ray Neary Hired to Fight for Abstinence Education,” Massachusetts News, 10 October 2003, accessed
  4. 9 February 2005, <http://www.massnews.com/2002_editions/Print_editions/10_Oct/1002_mn_sightings.shtml#3>.

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