Abstinence-only funding not dead if Congress plays ‘hide the salami’ again

Reproductive health advocates cheered the news Friday that President Barack Obama cut two $100 million abstinence-only sex education programs from the federal budget in lieu of more effective, comprehensive teen pregnancy prevention programs.

But the real test of wills comes in the Congressional conference committee on the federal budget where one Democratic member has a penchant for playing “hide the salami” with funding for the controversial chaste-until-marriage program.

As we’ve reported previously, the labyrinthine budgeting process Congress has been giving it away big time — to the tune of now more than $1.5 billion for abstinence-only programs over the last 25 years.

We’ve long-documented the fancy footsteps of Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc., chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, who slipped additional funding into a 2007 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,” repeatedly crossed swords with reproductive health advocates in 2007 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 by then-President George W. Bush.

Whether Obey will abide Obama’s directive on the funding will be the subject of close scrutiny by budget hawks, religious conservatives and reproductive freedom groups, alike.

For her part, Denver Democrat and a fierce advocate for comprehensive sex education, Rep. Diana DeGette said in a statement, “Eliminating funding for ineffective abstinence-only programs is a win for science. The Obama budget proposal invests in programs that are effective and based on sound science, rather than wasting millions of dollars on efforts that have been proven to be ineffective at best.”

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