New Battle Looming Over Sex Ed Funding

The war between supporters of comprehensive sex education programs and abstinence education are gearing up for a new battle as a proposed House bill threatens to slash funding for “safe sex” programs and divert half of the money to abstinence education.

According to The Washington Times, a house bill that would fund the Department of Health and Human Services for 2012 promises to cut funding for the president’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPP). The TPP program currently doles out $105 million to organizations that replicate certain “comprehensive” sex education programs. The new bill would cut that amount to $40 million and require half of the money to go to community-based abstinence education programs.

The TPP program was originally passed by Congress when it was controlled by Democrats who used it to replace Bush-era abstintence-education grants.

Supporters of TPP are furious.

“The whole idea behind the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative was to both fund programs that work and build the evidence base” so that “we will have some new data about what works,” said Monica Rodriguez, president and chief executive of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), a major provider of sex ed programs in the U.S.

She called the House bill “problematic and hypocritical” because in an era of deficit reduction and cost saving, the new bill would decimate a program that works and divert money to what she calls “failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.”

Supporters of abstinence-education disagree.  

Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) cited a recent report that lists 22 studies, half published since 2008, that show abstinence education programs as reducing teen sex and affecting teen behavior.

In addition, federal data show “a dramatic drop” in teen sexual-activity rates since 1996 — the year abstinence-education funding was first expanded, Huber told the Times. It’s not possible to attribute this turnaround to a single event, but “we can say with certainty . . . that abstinence education is an approach that teens are grasping and applying to their lives.”

The big question now is what will happen when the House bill is merged with a Senate bill that not only includes funds for TPP, but increases the amount from $105 million to $113 million.

“Well, I think that’s the million-dollar question in Congress,” Huber said.

While Rodriquez is hoping the Senate version returns the funding to former levels, Huber says the House version is better because it splits TPP funds between “risk avoidance” abstinence programs and “risk-reduction” contraception programs.

That’s “much more equitable,” especially since the Senate bill “has not a penny” for abstinence education, she said.

The deadline for a decision is Nov. 18, when Congress‘ temporary spending law expires.

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