Today, we learned that the Democratic controlled Labor HHS Appropriations conference committee report includes the full $28 million increase requested by President Bush for failed abstinence-only-until-marriage-programs. The Democrats have now granted the president and his anti-sex education zealots a whopping $141 million dollar budget for abstinence-only programs — something they could never achieve even under a conservative Republican Congress!
Never mind the congressionally-mandated evaluation released in April showing abstinence-only programs have "no impact on adolescent behavior." Never mind the 2006 study by the Society of Adolescent Medicine which stated that these programs "threaten fundamental human rights to health, information and life." Never mind the 2004 report from Congressman Henry Waxman's (D-CA) oversight committee demonstrating that 80% of abstinence-only programs contain "false or misleading information." Never mind the 13 governors who have refused abstinence-only dollars because they see no reason to use precious state dollars to match federal funds for programs that simply do not work.
With one breathtakingly cynical move, the Democratic leadership has now stamped its brand on one of the biggest ideological boondoggles in congressional history. More disturbingly, they have placed the health and safety of young people at risk by promoting programs that spread ignorance in the era of HIV/AIDS. Placing politics before public health and ideology over science have now become bipartisan follies.
Of course, we will hear the excuses. Funding these failed abstinence-only programs is an unavoidable consequence of Chairman David Obey (D-WI) "being Obey." After all, he has long been known for his barely concealed hostility to reproductive health issues and sex education.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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But increasingly, that excuse rings hollow — particularly after it became known that the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), signed off on the increased funding. Advocates are also questioning why our sex education "champions" on the House Appropriations Committee, such as Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Nita Lowey (D-NY), and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), never offered a single amendment during the appropriations process to slow Obey's mad dash to increase funding for abstinence-only programs. Perhaps they care far more about being "appropriators in good standing with the Chairman" than they do about being authentic champions of sex education.
And why has Henry Waxman suddenly gone mute on continued funding for abstinence-only programs? In the past, he effectively used this funding as an example of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress promoting ideology over public health science. Why have there been no public statements or public hearings now that the Democrats control Congress?
And what happened to the Democrats in the Senate? At least they had cut abstinence-only programs by $28 million in their bill rather than acceding to the President's outrageous demands for an increase. Why did they cave to Obey and the House Democrats on this issue in the conference committee?
I am constantly told that it's not "politic" to call out our friends on an issue like sex education. There are bigger fish to fry. I'm not buying that anymore. Not when ten thousand young people get an STD, two thousand become pregnant and fifty-five contract HIV every single day in this country. Not when poll after poll shows this issue to be a political winner, not a loser, for Democrats. Not after Democrats exploited this issue in opposition and now, with control of Congress, act like it's an insignificant chit to be bartered away at the whim of a recalcitrant committee Chairman.
It is now time to call this what it truly is. A stunning disgrace.
It's also time to stop buying into the "dog ate my homework" excuses of our erstwhile reproductive rights champions and to start holding them accountable for what they have done to undermine the health and safety of young people in this country.
Take action and tell Congress that youth are not political tools!