Appropriations Bill Ends Abstinence-Only Funding, Increases Family Planning

There was a lot of good news packed into the 2010 Omnibus Appropriations bill which was passed by Congress over the weekend. For the first time ever, Congress eliminated all dedicated funding for abstinence-only sex education programs.

There was a lot of good news packed into the 2010 Omnibus
Appropriations bill which was passed by Congress over the weekend. For the first time ever, the appropriations bill eliminated all funding for abstinence-only sex education programs in favor of evidence-based programs that focus on preventing unintended pregnancy.

The bill, which still requires the president’s signature to become law, allocates $114.5 million for teen pregnancy prevention programs, including discussion of both contraceptive use and abstinence.  These funds will be overseen by the newly established Office of Adolescent
Health (OAH) within the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

"This bill marks the first time since 1981 that
abstinence-only-until-marriage programs will not receive dedicated federal funding
in the coming fiscal year," says Jen Heitel Yakush, assistant director for
public policy at SIECUS.

Yakush broke down the allocations.

  • Of the $114 million appropriated,
    $110 million will go towards "competitive contracts and grants to public and
    private entities to fund medically accurate and age appropriate programs that
    reduce teen pregnancy."
  • Of this $110 million, a minimum of $75 million must be
    used to replicate teenage pregnancy prevention programs proven effective
    through rigorous evaluation. Programs that address the behavioral risk factors
    that underlie teen pregnancy can also receive funding.
  • In addition,
    at least $25 million must be available for "research and demonstration grants
    to develop, replicate, refine, and test additional models and innovative
    strategies for preventing teenage pregnancy."
  • The conference report language
    states that this smaller pot of funding is intended to go to programs that
    stress the value of abstinence and provide age-appropriate information to youth
    that is scientifically and medically accurate.
  • The remaining $4.5 million is
    provided for program evaluation funding, including longitudinal evaluations, of
    teenage pregnancy prevention approaches.

Yakush explained that in order to qualify for funds programs must have "reducing teen pregnancy" as the primary goal.  The framework for "reducing teen pregnancy" is narrower than that for comprehensive sex education, because such programs do not have as primary outcomes reductions in transmission of sexual infections, nor measures for the needs of gay, lesbian, and transgender youth, among other missing pieces.  However, Yakush believes that as long as pregnancy prevention is the key outcome, the funding stream doesn’t prohibit funded programs
from discussing STD prevention or other sexual health topics.

All in the all, the 2010 appropriations bill is a huge step
forward for schools that wanted to stop using long-derided
abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programs that have been tied to a
strict eight-point
of abstinence.

International HIV and AIDS and family planning programs

U.S. global AIDS programs received modest gains in funding. 

Yakush explains the allocation for international programs.

  • The final funding level for
    HIV/AIDS programs came in at $5.709 billion which was only $200 million above
    2009 and $100 million above the request, for international HIV/AIDS prevention,
    treatment and care programs.  Of this
    total, $750 million were allocated to multilateral programs through the Global
    Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

  • Bilateral and multilateral funding
    for Family Planning/ Reproductive Health programs totals $648.5 million, an
    increase of more than $103 million above the FY 2009 enacted level and $55
    million more than requested by the president.

In another positive step, for the first time in many years
the U.S. will contribute $55 million to the United Nations Population Fund
(UNPF). Funding to UNFPA was withheld during George W. Bush’s administration.

Unfortunately an attempt to permanently eliminate the global gag rule – also known as the "Mexico City policy" was passed by the Senate but
pulled out during conference committee.  When
he first took office President Obama, like his predecessor Bill Clinton, used
an executive order to rescind the global gag rule – which severely limited how
funds that could be used for international family planning. Since Ronald Reagan
first established the rule successive Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and
Barrack Obama, have put it on moratorium while Republican presidents, George H.
Bush, George W. Bush, reinstated it.

Domestically the appropriations bill also reverses a ban on use of local funds by the District of Columbia to pay for abortions for
low-income women and also removed a ban on funding for needle-exchange programs to limit the spread of HIV and AIDS.