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Committee votes to continue abstinence education funds

WASHINGTON (BP)–The House Commerce Committee has voted to continue funding “abstinence only” sexual education programs, despite criticism from those who say contraceptives should also be part of the “comprehensive” picture.

Committee Republicans, led by Commerce Committee chairman Billy Tauzin, R.-La., pushed the merits of the abstinence programs. In a 35-17 vote April 24, the committee amended the Social Security Act to extend funding for abstinence-until-marriage education through 2007, CNSNews.com reported.

The $50 million in annual funding was originally appropriated in 1996 under Title V of the Welfare Reform Act.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D.-Calif., criticized the decision, saying that abstinence programs leave out valuable information for teens who already are having sex.

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“A gag rule on information is no way to solve a serious health problem,” Waxman said.

Federal law bars the programs from teaching the benefits of birth control and requires the programs to instruct that sex outside of marriage is harmful.

On April 23, a subcommittee on health heard testimony on the merits and shortcomings of abstinence-until-marriage education. Afterwards, Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called such programs “dangerous and irresponsible.”

“This bill is continuing the policy of throwing good money after bad at unproven programs that put teen’s health at risk,” Feldt said. “Increased and enhanced use of contraception is responsible for the recent decline in teen pregnancy.

“When teens have access to the full range of reproductive health care services, including medically accurate sexuality education, they are more likely to make responsible choices about sex and sexuality,” she said. “Anything less is dangerous and irresponsible.”

Leslee Unruh, president and founder of the South Dakota-based Abstinence Clearinghouse, meanwhile, said that despite the criticism, abstinence education should continue and the government should continue to fund such programs.

“Funding should be increased,” Unruh said. “And I am excited because President Bush has a commitment to the abstinence-until-marriage message.”

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Unruh made the distinction between “abstinence-only” and “abstinence-until-marriage” programs. Unruh said “abstinence-only” has been used by pro-contraception education advocates “so they can take the name ‘abstinence-plus,’ in which the plus stands for condoms.”

Unruh added that programs need to teach abstinence from premarital sex as well as abstinence from other “high-risk” activities, which often lead to sex.

“This ‘abstinence-until-marriage’ program focuses on personal character and sexual integrity until marriage,” Unruh said. “Abstinence education teaches that engaging in high-risk behaviors, like drinking, smoking and drugs, can lead to sexual activity.

“It’s really important that we deal with all the high-risk activities, but it’s important that we deal with the one that is causing such heartache in this country — early sexual activity, which often leads to teen pregnancy,” she said.
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Pierce is a staff writer with www.CNSNews.com. Used by permission.