Tuesday, October 05, 2004

U.S. Boosts Abstinence-Only Funding

House boosts abstinence-only funding
By Cheryl Wetzstein
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published October 4, 2004

Abstinence-education supporters are applauding a 49 percent funding increase in a grant program for abstinence that the House recently included in an appropriations bill, although it is not clear when, or whether, the additional money will be available.
The Senate hasn't passed its appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services and is unlikely to do so until after the November election, congressional aides said last week.
Still, "it's pretty exciting" to see the House raise funding for the community-based abstinence program, known as Special Projects of Regional and National Significance (SPRANS), to $105 million in fiscal 2005 from $70.5 million in fiscal 2004, said Leslee Unruh, president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The SPRANS funding and other abstinence grants are "making an impact," said Mrs. Unruh, noting that a few months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report that abstinence was partly responsible for 53 percent of the decline in teen births from 1991 to 2001.
The clearinghouse's goal is still "parity" in funding, said Mrs. Unruh, who estimated that abstinence education still receives only $1 for every $12 given to programs that stress condom use.
Opponents of abstinence-only education say the new funds are a mistake.
Congress has "got to begin to repeal some of this abstinence-only madness," said Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat and lead sponsor of a bill to allocate $100 million a year for comprehensive sexual education, which covers sexual behavior, abstinence and contraceptives.
California has refused to take federal abstinence money because it can be used only for abstinence curricula and programs, Ms. Lee said at a congressional briefing sponsored last week by the American School Health Association and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS).
California has paid a price for sticking to its teen-health principles.
"We've lost $46 million now," Ms. Lee said.
Abstinence-only funding not only blocks teens from getting essential information about sexual health, but also is used by some people to "censor textbooks and vilify teachers," said Bill Smith, SIECUS director of public policy. SIECUS leaders are especially critical of "virginity" pledges, in which teens sign statements promising to remain chaste until marriage.
A federal study has shown that teens who sign virginity pledges tend to delay sexual intercourse for 18 months -- but not until marriage, SIECUS leaders said. Pledge signers also are far less likely than their peers to use birth control or condoms when they became sexually active.
"Virginity pledges are not the answer," SIECUS leaders said.
In contrast, a report by the Heritage Foundation says teens who actively participate in virginity-pledge programs "are far less likely to engage in risky behaviors and will have far better life outcomes than those who do not."
Pledge signers are less likely to become pregnant or give birth as a teen or be sexually active in high school or as a young adult, said Heritage researchers Robert Rector, Kirk A. Johnson and Jennifer A. Marshall.