WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Senate Finance Committee voted to restore funding for abstinence education through Title V state grants Sept. 29 after Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, added an amendment to reinstate $50 million per year in abstinence funding that President Obama had cut from his budget proposal to Congress.
The 12-11 vote Tuesday night came despite the committee's chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D.-Mont., arguing that abstinence education doesn't work. Two Democrats, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, joined all 10 committee Republicans in voting for the amendment to the health care reform bill.
"Committee members courageously put politics aside in favor of the health and well-being of the American families," the National Abstinence Education Association said in a statement issued after Finance Committee session. "Tonight's vote is a show of support for valuable and proven abstinence education that has made such a difference in the lives of so many teens, while also supporting parents who soundly endorse such programs," NAEA said.
The measure still must pass the full Senate and the House. The Associated Press reported that Baucus introduced an alternate measure that also passed the Finance Committee by a 14-9 vote. The Baucus amendment would make money available for education on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases, among other things, in addition to abstinence, AP said.
As the legislation moves forward, lawmakers will have to reconcile the two measures, the AP report noted.
Valerie Huber, NAEA's executive director, said recent research analysis demonstrates that school-based abstinence education is more successful in positive behavior change than so-called comprehensive sex education, which Baucus is pushing.
"It is encouraging that the hard work of grassroots constituencies from across the country have prevailed to ensure these common-sense programs will continue," Huber said Sept. 29. "While the amendment still needs to pass a Senate floor vote, tonight's decision is a significant step in the right direction for the optimal health of America's youth."
Hatch, hailing the committee's vote, said abstinence education works.
"My amendment restores a vital funding stream so that teens and parents have the option to participate in programs that have demonstrated success in reducing teen sexual activity and, consequently, teen pregnancies," Hatch said.
In the past, abstinence education funding was extended along with funding for the Transitional Medical Assistance or TMA program, which extends Medicaid to families struggling to get off welfare, but Obama removed it in his budget proposal to Congress.
"My first choice would be to not have the federal government involved in any way in these types of education programs and leave these discussions in the proper environment of the home with family members," Hatch said.
"However, if the federal government is going to spend money on educating people about sexual decisions, the absence of an abstinence-only education program has negative health consequences for our nation's most vulnerable citizens: teenage pregnancy is a leading contributor to poverty, which in turn leads to poor health outcomes for mothers and children; sexually active teens are more likely to experience mental health issues such as depression or attempted suicide; and sexually active teens are more likely to suffer health consequences such as increased rates of infection with sexually transmitted diseases," Hatch said.