First, the good news: On September 29, the Senate Finance Committee approved a $75 million funding stream for comprehensive (i.e., responsible) sex education. According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SEICUS), "$50 million [...] would be geared to evidence-based, medically accurate, age-appropriate programs to educate adolescents about both abstinence and contraception in order to prevent unintended teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. The remaining funds would be for innovative programs as well as research and evaluation."
The amendment passed by a margin of 14-9, with moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snowe (ME) joining all committee Democrats in voting in favor.
Next, the bad news: They also passed an amendment that reinstates funding for the failed Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program which expired on June 30, 2009. This amendment will provide $50 million per year through 2014 to extend the program. It passed by a shameful 12-11 vote count, with Democratic Senators Blanche Lincoln (AR) and Kent Conrad (ND) joining all committee Republicans in voting in favor.
According to SEICUS, "Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding had been refused by nearly half of the states both because of the restrictive nature of the program and the fact that overwhelming evidence has proven these programs to be ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars."
Kudos to those states that have refused that misguided funding, but the fact remains that the money still goes somewhere. Some states are more than happy to grab it, often to the exclusion of the more comprehensive options.
The problem is that abstinence-only education is both impractical and downright dangerous. While most people who choose to abstain from sex until marriage surely have the best of intentions, history and statistics have shown that, all too often, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Peer pressure, a couple of beers, or just plain old raging hormones can cloud the judgment of even the most strong-willed proponents of abstinence. Just ask Bristol Palin.
A 2004 report by Advocates for Youth, a program that fosters decision-making responsibility in young people, confirmed that these abstinence-only programs have had no long-term success in delaying sexual initiation or reducing sexual risk-taking behaviors.
When abstinence is broken, people need to be prepared to protect themselves against infection and unwanted pregnancy. Instead, the abstinence-only approach leaves them ignorant and ill-prepared to deal with the physical and emotional consequences of sexual activity.
By pandering to the religious right with this kind of legislation, the Senate Finance Committee is, in effect, trying to impose an extreme set of moral beliefs onto the rest of us who may or may not agree. That strikes me as unconstitutional.
A list of Senate Finance Committee members can be found at finance.senate.gov. Check it out and keep these two votes in mind when they run for reelection.