(VIDEO): Why Was Abstinence-only Funding Restored?

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(VIDEO): Why Was Abstinence-only Funding Restored?

Charlie Stuart

When the smoke cleared from health reform, we found out that a quarter of a billion dollars had been inserted into the bill ostensibly as a "sweetner" for conservatives.

Imagine a quarter of a billion dollars, approved by Democrats for programs which the vast majority of them know don’t work. The money was attached to the healthcare bill to resurrect Title V money for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. The question is, when no Republicans were involved in this effort, how could this have happened?

I have been reporting on federal funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs ever since I made a documentary for PBS in 2005 called Abstinence Comes to Albuquerque. One could argue that at that time, the jury was out concerning the success or failure of these programs. Even so, during good economic times, it didn’t make sense to me to fund programs which were questionable, limited in scope and had a clear ideological bent.

The nail came in the coffin in 2007 when Congress (reluctantly) released its own study proving that the programs do not work. I updated the film by including the results from the Mathematica Study and also by interviewing Dr. Douglas Kirby, senior researcher at ETR Associates, one of the most respected researchers in the country. His comments were unequivocal. Referring to the study as “rigorous” he told me that “typically when we do research, we find some small, positive effects. Here we found nothing. It was absolutely stunning.” He went on to add, “I am embarrassed not only as a researcher, but also as a parent that the government has wasted over a billion dollars on these programs.”

Yes, there was one recent study (Jemmott) which conservatives point to which says that some programs work, but as James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth says, “Jemmott’s program would not quality for Title V funding since it doesn’t follow the rigid, ideological eight point definition—a point made by the authors themselves.

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While I’d like to just blame the Republicans, Democrats were also responsible for pouring money into these programs. Even if they didn’t believe in them, they were afraid to have their vote spun to portray themselves as being against abstinence from sex until marriage.

The pendulum was beginning to swing back to more fact-based sex education. Abstinence only proponents were now saying that they were “abstinence-based” Some were teaching about dangerous STI’s.

To his great credit, Obama put no money into his budget for such programs. Congress sunset Title V last June. Then Senator Orin Hatch attached $50 million a year for five years to healthcare, but when Obama made his push along party lines to vote for health care, advocates could breathe a sigh of relief.

Except that when the smoke cleared and the bill was passed, off in the sidelines stood a quarter of billion for abstinence-from-sex-until-marriage programs. Advocates were caught off guard, and no one had an answer as to how this had happened. So Hunter Stuart of STV Productions went to Capitol Hill and filed a video report which points to a sweetner deal for conservative democrats, apparently as one more way to insure passage of the bill.

Air is pumped back into the spurious argument that abstinence only programs do work. Money is flowing to programs which give either blatantly false or at best misleading information about reproductive health.

I never thought I would have anything in common with the Tea Party, but when 73 percent of them say that the federal government doesn’t work; I have to agree with them that Congress is corrupt (Democrats included) when it sacrifices the reproductive health of our teenagers.