House Proposes Important Fixes with Reauthorization of Title V Abstinence-Only Program

As part of the United States House of Representatives’ consideration of State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in early August, Representatives proposed reauthorizing a portion of Title V of the Social Security Act which currently provides states with $50 million in funding for extreme abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  The program is set to expire on September 30.  The proposed reauthorization contains several vital improvements designed to remedy some of the severe shortcomings of the existing Title V program.  These include provisions:

  • requiring funded programs to contain medically and scientifically accurate information;
  • giving states the flexibility to use funds for more comprehensive programs which discuss abstinence, but may also include information on birth control; and
  • requiring funded programs to have been proven effective at decreasing teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease (STDs), or HIV/AIDS rates.

“We commend the Democratic leaders in the House for tackling this difficult issue and announcing that the future will not hold unlimited federal funding for the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. 

Due to the extreme restrictions that the existing law places on how states may spend this money, eleven states are currently not participating in the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program.  Many states are declining to participate based on sound public health concerns and because Governors have deemed the programs to be inconsistent with their state’s values or public health mandates.  An additional dozen states are awaiting federal action, like that which was done by the House, before deciding whether or not to continue participating in the program. 

“Including state flexibility as part of the Title V program creates the opportunity for the federal government to support programs that are consistent with community norms and values.  It will allow all states to provide abstinence education, as well as other information, that their young people need in order to make good and responsible decisions,” said Smith.

The improvements will also address some serious issues that have arisen over the past several years, such as medical and scientific accuracy and effectiveness.  Before the House’s proposed improvements to existing law, Title V funds could be used only for programs that followed a strict abstinence-only-until-marriage approach.  Some of these programs contained medical inaccuracies (such as claiming that HIV could be spread through tears), others stated that sex outside of marriage was likely to cause physical and emotional harm, and none of the programs had ever been proven effective.  Just this past April, a major national evaluation sponsored by the government looked at a number of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs funded by Title V and found that they had no impact on the sexual behavior of young people. 
“If this becomes law, it will be incumbent upon the states to do the right thing,” continued Smith.  “This reauthorization puts an increased responsibility on them to make sure that any program failing to meet the criteria of effectiveness and medical accuracy set out in the legislation is not funded.”

The measure passed the House 225–204.  The Senate has not yet acted on Title V reauthorization. It is expected that a final decision will be made as the House and Senate go to conference, working out the differences in their respective versions of SCHIP.  Advocates for comprehensive sexuality education are hopeful that the Senate will accept the House provision for inclusion in the final legislation.

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