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Omnibus bill cuts abstinence spending

WASHINGTON (BP)–Federal funding for community-based abstinence education has taken a $14 million cut in the omnibus spending bill currently being debated in the Senate, making it one of the few Health and Human Services programs to receive a cut in funding.

Also, the stimulus bill that Congress recently passed included language delinking two funding streams that had traveled together. One of the streams was the Title V funding for abstinence education.

“They were delinked in the stimulus, so the funding program that was linked to get Democrats to help support it — transitional medical assistance — was reauthorized in the stimulus, but Title V was not,” Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, told Baptist Press.

“The funding does not expire until June 30, but we know that that was an intentional unlinking of those two to make it more difficult for Title V to be reauthorized,” Huber said.

Despite the dire straits abstinence education seems to be facing, Huber said she is pleased that such funding was included at all in the two bills and that the legislation authors maintained the A-H guidelines in Title V that define what abstinence education must include in order to receive federal funding.

Huber said abstinence supporters need to understand that the coming months are going to be “most certainly the biggest battle ever to preserve abstinence education.”

“Radical interest groups are pushing hard, both to the Obama administration and liberal members of Congress, to defund abstinence education,” Huber said. “So [supporters] need to be engaged every step of the way if they want to see abstinence education be a viable option in their communities.”

The real losers, if abstinence education funding fails, will be the youth who are receiving skills to help them make their commitment to abstain a reality, Huber said.

“We already know that one in four teen girls has at least one STD, and the constant messaging that sex is safe as long as you use a condom is giving them a false sense of security,” she said. “We’re seeing this epidemic of STDs as a result.”

Huber’s comments coincide with a study released in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine which found that teenagers who preferred popular songs with degrading sexual references were more likely to engage in intercourse or related activities.

The study noted that sexual activity among adolescents in the United States results in more than 750,000 teenage pregnancies each year and up to 25 percent of all female adolescents have a sexually transmitted infection. The study’s author said his findings build on those of previous studies suggesting that exposure to sex in media messages may be a risk factor for early sexual progression.

“This study demonstrates that, among this sample of young adolescents, high exposure to lyrics describing degrading sex in popular music was independently associated with higher levels of sexual behavior,” Brian Primack, the study’s author from the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine, said.

“In fact, exposure to lyrics describing degrading sex was one of the strongest associations with sexual activity…. These results provide further support for the need for additional research and educational intervention in this area.”

What the study reveals, Huber said, is that teenagers need a positive message to balance the negative ones pushing them toward premature sexual activity.

“The cultural messaging that is confronting teens on a daily basis does have an impact,” she said. “We have to recognize that and bolster the messages that counter that, and abstinence education is an important counter to that because it’s really skill-building. It’s not just saying no.”

If abstinence education is taken out of the picture, Huber said, what will be left is a public health message without any primary prevention message attached to it.

“That will be the first time to my knowledge that we as taxpayers and that the government has neglected a best health message related to a risk behavior,” she told BP. “There’s no other example. It would be very unfortunate.

“I hope that the health of the youth trumps the ideological debate that’s going on about this issue,” she added. “That’s what we’re trying to foster, but it remains to be seen if these radical special interest groups are going to prevail and youth are going to lose.”

From its inception, abstinence education funding has been a bipartisan issue, Huber said.

“The very first funding stream for abstinence education began in the ’80s, but it was a very small funding stream and it was mainly just to look for promising practices and was really a heavy research model,” Huber said.

“Abstinence education in a more broadly funded scope really didn’t occur until the Clinton administration. Then under George W. Bush, abstinence education received a boost, particularly for the community-based approaches.”

For the sake of the nation’s youth, abstinence education cannot be a partisan issue, Huber said.

“A lot of our providers for abstinence education are not looking at it as a red and blue issue. Some of them helped to send Obama to the White House, some of them helped send Bush to the White House,” she said. “They’re looking at what the best message is for youth. And they want the politics taken out, and so do we.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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