Abstinence-only rides again

A new bill could give a multimillion-dollar boost to abstinence-only education.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published June 14, 2007 10:38PM (EDT)

You didn't really think that you'd seen the end of public abstinence-only education, did you? Sure, the Democrats vowed to not renew funding this month for abstinence-only programs under Title V after a report found them medically inaccurate, not to mention ineffective in reducing teen pregnancies. But, as Lindsay Beyerstein points out (via Bitch Ph.D.), the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on labor, health and human services and education just approved a multimillion-dollar boost to the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program.

Yes, it is exactly what its name implies. "It makes little sense to squelch Title V while boosting CBAE because the two programs share the same curriculum guidelines," writes Beyerstein. "If Title V is a waste of money, so is CBAE." And what a whopping waste it is: If the bill passes, CBAE will receive $141 million -- that's a $32 million budget increase. So why are House Democrats proposing an increase in abstinence-only funds, after defunding a nearly identical program?

In short: They're trying to prevent a presidential veto of the Labor-H bill, of which the proposed CBAE funding increase is a part, because it includes funding for vital programs like Medicare and Medicaid. President Bush promised to veto any bill that exceeds his budget -- the Labor-H bill exceeds it by more than $10 billion. "So Democrats must attract enough votes to pass the bill with a veto-proof majority if they are to prevail," says Beyerstein. Throwing aside tens of millions of dollars for abstinence-only education just might be the perfect enticement.

Is this a reasonable compromise or a total capitulation on the party's core principles? Beyerstein argues it's the latter -- particularly when it comes to civil rights. These programs are required by law to teach students that "a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity." What are gay and lesbian students supposed to do, then -- abstain from sex for life or convert to heterosexuality? That's not even to touch on the fact that these programs rely on medical inaccuracies and are totally ineffective. Beyerstein argues: "In their rush to achieve compromise on an important domestic spending bill, Democrats should not lose sight of the ugly reality of abstinence-only education."

Tracy Clark-Flory

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