WASHINGTON (BP)–President Obama’s proposed budget for 2010 would eliminate federal funding for abstinence education programs in public schools, replacing them with so-called comprehensive sex education programs that promote the use of condoms and other contraceptives among the nation’s teenagers.
Under the plan, released May 7, Obama would cut more than $100 million in spending on abstinence-only education and create a new $110 million “teen pregnancy prevention initiative.” Another $50 million would be directed to states for pregnancy prevention programs that rely on condoms.
Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, told Baptist Press the new proposal does not make sense.
“As you know, teen births are starting to inch up again and STD rates are continuing to be at an epidemic level for teens, with at least one in four teen girls having at least one STD,” Huber said. “Why would we at this time in particular take away anything that would provide teens with the skills to avoid that risk? It just doesn’t make sense at all.”
A report from the Department of Health and Human Services in December said that for every dollar being spent on abstinence education, $4 was being spent on comprehensive sex education in the nation’s public schools.
“What the president is suggesting is that we completely zero out the primary prevention approach and just add even more dollars for risk reduction or what whatever you want to call it that has a pretty poor record for effectiveness,” Huber said.
Some states have made clear they want to teach abstinence as a primary approach.
“He is completely eliminating a choice for those states and those communities,” Huber said of the president. “It doesn’t make sense unless this is purely a discussion of politics versus what’s best for youth.”
Huber said local support for abstinence education will enable it to continue.
“The question is at what level. It will be very difficult for local and state governments that are already financially strapped to replace the funding that is currently being provided with these federal funds,” she said.
Huber and other abstinence supporters had some notion that Obama would push to eliminate federal funding for such education, but they hoped it wouldn’t actually happen.
“I know that special interest groups were demanding this,” she said. “During the election, they received some support from him and an indication that he might do this. So while we’re not totally surprised, we are very disappointed because we had hoped that he would realize this is an issue that shouldn’t be a part of political payback and shouldn’t be a part of politics at all.”
A significant number of students who received abstinence education and supported Obama becoming president have expressed dismay at the latest move, Huber said.
“They don’t understand why he would shut off the skills that they’re receiving as a result of these programs,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to them because they don’t care about the politics of it. They just know what it’s done in their lives.”
The National Abstinence Education Association is going to continue meeting with members of Congress in an effort to see this portion of Obama’s budget proposal defeated.
“We are hopeful that they will take a serious look at the abstinence approach, at the research behind it, at the lives that have been changed as a result and will reject the president’s request and continue abstinence education funding,” Huber said.
“We are also encouraging those programs and those individuals who are constituents of those members to let them know that this is a very important time for them to make their voices known and to also let their members know of the success of those programs in their own districts — what kind of fruit they’re bearing,” she said.
Huber expects the budget debate in Congress to be picked up in May, certainly by June.
“There’s no time like the present to begin those conversations with their members. We know very specifically that those who oppose abstinence education have already begun a very concerted effort to make sure that the president’s request is heard loud and clear in Congress,” she said.
“We need to have those who are supportive of abstinence make an even more compelling argument because this is a health message and the members need to hear it as such.”
Huber urges concerned individuals to visit a website hosted by NAEA, www.abstinenceworks.org, for statistics and other information that they can share with their local school board members and policy makers.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.