President Obama plans to eliminate funding for abstinence-only sex education programs and replace it with money for more inclusive forms of teen pregnancy prevention.
The predictable and potentially controversial reversal of Bush administration policy on abstinence was announced with little fanfare in the 1,380-page budget appendix released by the White House on Thursday morning.
But it was greeted with quick and hearty approval from longtime critics of abstinence-only education.
"Finally we have a president who gets it," said California Rep. Barbara Lee , chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and author of legislation (HR 1551) aimed at providing more comprehensive sex and disease education to students.
In place of the abstinence-only funding, which has been roughly $110 million per year in discretionary spending and $50 million per year in mandatory spending under national welfare laws, the president would direct money to teen pregnancy prevention programs.
The mandatory spending, often referred to as Title V funding, is already set to expire in June. Under Obama's proposal, money that would have gone to that program would be combined with $110 million in year-to-year discretionary spending to fund programs that replicate proven methods of reducing teenage pregnancies. At least $75 million would have to be spent on programs known to delay sexual activity and to increase contraceptive use.
The Department of Health and Human Services describes the shift in thinking this way: "Previous evaluations indicate that the most positive results come from high intensity youth development programs that provide a range of services in addition to comprehensive sex education, such as after school activities, academic support, or service learning."
The National Abstinence Education Association said in a statement that the White House plan "disregards the growing body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of abstinence education," including research showing "a 50% decrease in sexual onset among teens that are enrolled in abstinence programs."
"At a time when teens are subjected to an increasingly sexualized culture, it is essential that common-sense legislators from both sides of the aisle reject this extreme attempt to de-fund the only approach that removes all risk," said NAEA Executive Director Valerie Huber.
That view was echoed on Capitol Hill among conservative Republicans.
"The congressman thinks it's a mistake that (Obama's) basically hijacking funds," said Andrew Cole, a spokesman for House Republican Values Action Team chairman Joseph R. Pitts of Pennsylvania.
The president could also face opposition as well from some conservative Democrats, who have resisted past efforts to eliminate abstinence-only programs.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey , D-Wis., has taken up their cause in the past. An Obey spokeswoman could not be reached for comment. But last year, Obey and Democratic appropriators initially beefed up the president's request for abstinence-only funding in an effort to win support for the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill from Republicans. Ultimately the funding was dropped below its fiscal 2008 level of $109 million.
In the omnibus spending bill Obama signed into law earlier this year, abstinence programs got $95 million, a substantial reduction from the $151 million once backed by Obey.
Critics of abstinence-only sex education programs point to a study commissioned by the Health and Human Services Department that concluded young people in abstinence-only programs were no more likely to refrain from sex than their peers in other pregnancy prevention programs.
"Abstinence only doesn't work. You have to have abstinence plus," said Lee, whose legislation would give states annual grants to promote "family life education," including instruction in the use of abstinence and contraception.