House Passes Abstinence-Only Education Funding in Welfare Bill
June 11, 2002
The House of Representatives voted 229-197 in favor of a welfare reform bill that would continue funding for abstinence-only education initiatives. The Welfare Reform Act, HR4737, is up for reauthorization this year. First passed in 1996, it allocated $50 million per year over a five-year period for state abstinence-only education programs. The current bill would maintain those funding levels. California is the only state that does not use money from the program. President Bush said the legislation encourages "strong families and healthy marriages" and urged the Senate to move the legislation quickly. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said the House "should be commended for its bold and courageous vote to take the next step of welfare reform."
However, reaction in the HIV/AIDS community was not so positive. James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, said abstinence-only programs "censor information about the health benefits of contraception, lack any credible evidence of effectiveness and have been rejected by every mainstream medical and health organization in the United States."
The AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families instead calls for giving states flexibility in designing abstinence education curricula. Although abstinence can be effective in preventing the transmission of STDs, data nonetheless "show that more than 65 percent of all youth have sex by age 18. For those who have sex, we want them to be fully aware of the risks, and we want them to know how to significantly reduce their risks," said David Harvey, executive director of the alliance. That group is asking the Senate to add a provision to the legislation giving states the option of choosing abstinence-based education, which would focus on abstinence but include information about contraceptives.
Some religious leaders also opposed the bill. "There is a false assumption that the religious community is in lock-step with the abstinence-only community. They are not," said Debra Haffner, co-director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. "Programs that teach abstinence exclusively and withhold information fail the nation's young people," she added. Members of that organization are drafting an open letter to lawmakers to support comprehensive sex education and oppose abstinence-only programs.
AIDS Policy & Law
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.