Who Put Failed Abstinence-Only Programs Back in Health Care Reform? And Why?

Published on
by
RH Reality Check

Who Put Failed Abstinence-Only Programs Back in Health Care Reform? And Why?

by
James Wagoner

Lost in the shuffle of analysis of the new health care reform legislation is the fact that Democrats included over $250 million for failed Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. The funds had been inserted in the health care reform legislation by Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) during Senate Finance Committee consideration of the bill last summer and, somehow, quietly survived the process of revisions that went on last fall.

ab-only.jpgNever mind that these programs place the health and lives of young people at risk by denying them medically accurate information about condoms and birth control. Never mind that an exhaustive eight-year evaluation by Mathematica published in April, 2007 showed that these programs have “no impact on teen behavior.”

Never mind that 22 states had rejected Title V funding in the past because they did not want to spend precious matching funds on programs that don’t work. Never mind that Speaker Pelosi condemned these programs at the Netroots conference in 2008. Bottom line is they are back, and Democrats seem none to eager to own up to who threw young people under the bus!

Here are some of the things we are hearing. Even though a number of prominent Democrats including Cong. Henry Waxman (D-CA) had contacted leadership and demanded that the ab-only programs be pulled from the bill, we’ve been told that leadership was focused on the "bigger issues" and never reached consideration of the ab-only piece.

Boy, does that ever smack of the “dog ate my homework” excuse. There was no rationale for keeping this amendment in the bill. Hatch is a Republican who opposes health care reform so there was no political need to placate the author of the measure. Taking Title V out of the bill would have saved a quarter billion dollars over five years and Democrats were desperate for savings so they could show that the bill would reduce the federal deficit.

Finally, we’ve been hearing that the recent publication of the Jemmott study showed that abstinence-only programs really work. One small problem with that line of thinking. Jemmott’s program would not qualify for Title V funding since it doesn’t  follow the rigid, ideological eight-point definition—a point made by the authors themselves!  So there is still no evidence those programs work; in fact quite the contrary.

The bottom line is that staff could have removed the funding in no time unless someone insisted on keeping it in the bill. So, a significant question comes to mind. Was the Title V funding part of the Stupak deal? Was it one more reproductive and sexual health “chit” traded away for conservative Democratic votes? If so, we have a right to know. Transparency is critical in determining how our legislative agenda is faring on Capitol Hill. We were sold out, and we have a right to know the rationale of those who did it.  

We usually think of advocacy campaigns in terms of having an effect on legislative outcomes. After the bill passes, we typically move on. I think the egregious nature of including failed and dangerous abstinence-only-until-marriage funding in the health care bill merits a follow-up campaign during which we hold the Democrats accountable for sacrificing the health and well-being of young people. Stay tuned!

This article was originally published by Advocates for Youth on AmplifyYourVoice.

James Wagoner is President of Advocates for Youth, a leading national organization on adolescent reproductive and sexual health. A respected public policy and reproductive health expert, Mr. Wagoner previously served as executive vice president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Prior to that, Mr. Wagoner served as chief of staff to Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-OH) and on the Senate Budget and Human Resources Committees.

Share This Article

More in: