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House panel hikes abstinence funding

WASHINGTON (BP)–In a preliminary victory for pro-family supporters, a House subcommittee voted to increase funding for abstinence education by $27.8 million, exceeding an increase requested by President Bush.

The House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, education and related agencies voted June 8 to increase funding for the Community Based Abstinence Education program (CBAE) to $141 million compared to Bush’s request for $137 million, according to a report by The Kaiser Foundation.

CBAE is the largest of three streams for federally funded abstinence education and is the one available to faith-based organizations. However, the Democrat-led subcommittee’s move comes as the House Energy and Commerce Committee appears to be fulfilling its chairman’s promise of letting another abstinence funding stream — Title V — expire June 30.

But Democrats’ generosity may not be altruistic, according to CQ Today, a legislative news-daily. The president has said he will veto spending bills that exceed his budget requests, and some observers say the increase in CBAE funding could help build a veto-proof bipartisan majority.

Whatever the motives, Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, told The Washington Times abstinence education “is a public health message that deserves to be continued.”

Though CBAE cleared the subcommittee hurdle, it still must pass a full House vote, where it could be amended or defeated.

“We are cautiously optimistic with this preliminary decision,” Linda Klepacki, sexual health analyst for Focus on the Family Action, told CitizenLink.com. “This allocation of funds would continue to provide our schoolchildren with the primary public health message of abstinence-until-marriage education.”

Still at danger — even with the proposed CBAE increase — is a list of abstinence education criteria labeled A-H, including (A) “Has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity” and (B) “Teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school age children.”

The A-H criteria are mandated by Title V, and if Title V expires, programs funded by CBAE would not be held to the A-H requirements.

A Zogby International poll released by NAEA in May found that 78 percent of parents think sex education classes in public schools should place more emphasis on promoting abstinence than on condom and other contraceptive use, and 83 percent of parents think it is important for their child to wait until they are married to have sex.

“I believe in abstinence education,” Rep. John Boozman, R.-Ark., wrote on The Hill’s Congress Blog June 6. “As a former school board member, I have seen firsthand how this education can help children and families.

“… Any move, or lack thereof, which leads to the elimination of this program shows a clear disconnect with the American people, and sends the message that the Speaker doesn’t trust parents on this issue, and she’ll choose what types of sex-education classes will be taught to their children,” Boozman added in reaffirming his call to fully fund Title V.

Congress has until June 30 to act on Title V, and Huber and other abstinence education supporters continue to urge citizens to contact their representatives and voice their concerns about letting Title V expire and their desire for CBAE to be increased.

“Please continue to contact your lawmakers to voice your support for abstinence education,” Klepacki said. “Ask them to vote in favor of this appropriation of funds until these funds are secure.”

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