Texas Republicans voted to divert funds from an HIV screening program into abstinence education Tuesday night, during an often tense and uncomfortable debate that got too personal for some lawmakers.
Texas has the third-highest HIV infection rate in the country as well as the fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate and highest repeat teen pregnancy rate, but Republican state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, a surgeon from North Texas, said his “goal is for everybody to be abstinent until they’re married.”
“My goal is for everybody to be HIV/AIDS free,” countered state Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), who peppered Spitzer with questions about Texas’ high HIV and STI rates, and opposed Spitzer’s plan to move $3 million from an HIV and STI screening program into abstinence education.
Spitzer’s amendment—which passed largely along party lines, with support from his fellow Republicans—to the state’s $210 billion biennial budget would increase its annual abstinence education budget from around $5 million per year for the next two years, to more than $8 million for each year. The HIV/STI prevention program from which Spitzer’s amendment removes funds had an annual budget allocation of around $191 million.
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During the debate, Spitzer admitted that Texas’ abstinence education program “may not be working well” in light of the state’s high teen pregnancy and STI rates, but argued that because of the HIV/STI program’s already larger budget, it could spare the funds for abstinence. Texas’ House Democrats said that more money for abstinence education would do little to improve Texans’ sexual health.
One Democrat, Rep. Harold Dutton (Houston), even asked Spitzer if he himself had personal experience with abstinence, tipping off an awkward public debate about Spitzer’s sex life.
“I’ve had sex with one woman, and that’s my wife,” said Spitzer, who stated that he was a virgin at age 29 when he got married, and that his decision not to have premarital sex enabled him to become a surgeon and state representative.
Dutton then asked if Spitzer had tried to have sex with anyone else before he married his wife, implying that Spitzer’s abstinence may not have been due entirely to personal choice and sending the Texas House chamber into an uproar.
Other Democrats questioned Spitzer’s knowledge about sexual health after he stated that sexual intercourse was the only way to contract STIs.
“If you think you can’t get an STD without having sex, maybe we need to educate you on how to get STDs,” said Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth).
Spitzer later said on his Facebook page that he is “perfectly able to speak about what activities put you at risk of STD/AIDS. That is why I support abstinence education.”
Over the course of an 18-hour budget debate, Texas lawmakers also voted to bar abortion “affiliates” from providing sex education materials in schools in an ongoing effort to target Planned Parenthood.
The Texas house will vote to approve its version of the biennial budget one more time before sending it to the state senate, which will propose its own version of the budget. Discrepancies in the two versions will then be ironed out in a conference committee later in the legislative session.