Congress Plays ‘Hide the Salami’ with Abstinence-Only Funding

We may want our kids to “just say no,” but when it comes to doling out abstinence-only funding, Congress isn’t abstaining. In the latest federal budget bill, Congress gives it away. Big time.A last-minute amendment to a domestic spending bill contained a big surprise for reproductive health advocates — a $28 million increase for a controversial abstinence-only federal grant program.

Rep. David Obey (D-WI), chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, slipped the additional funding into a report prepared by the conference committee — the body responsible for ironing out final discrepancies between the House and Senate versions of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education budget bill before it goes to the president.

Obey, a fierce proponent of “just say no to sex education,” crossed swords with reproductive health advocates earlier this summer and again last September when he first attempted to boost funding for the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program to $141 million, a 25 percent increase over last year. In press accounts, Obey argued that the extra funds are a necessary evil to placate conservative lawmakers in order to make the larger spending bill veto-proof.

Whether that strategy is sound remains to be seen. The conference committee report hasn’t even landed on the president’s desk yet, and he’s already vowing to veto it. Congress has yet to override a presidential veto during this legislative session.

Conservative lawmakers who otherwise claim to be budget hawks gladly fund abstinence-only programs. Over the last 25 years, Congress has earmarked an estimated $1.5 billion to support the controversial programs.

Independent analyses of abstinence-only programs by the Government Accountability Office and Mathematica Policy Research [PDF] strongly criticized the programs’ lack of scientifically accurate curricula, their little oversight, and their inability to demonstrate a direct, causal reduction in teen sexual activity.

A first-of-its-kind study of teenagers published in August 2007 found widely varying views on abstinence and virginity in stark contrast to the strict morality delivered by no-sex-until-marriage programs.

While teen pregnancy rates overall have decreased over the last decade, the reasons are in dispute. Abstinence-only proponents and religious leaders argue that their programs are making a mark while reproductive health advocates point to greater access to and use of contraceptives by adolescents.

Colorado received $3.5 million in federal abstinence program grants last year.

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Wendy Norris

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