ACLU Urges Congress to Do the Right Thing for Young Americans

June 24, 2008 12:00 am

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Funding for Abstinence-only Programs Must End

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Washington, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union urges both the Senate and House of Representatives to act in the best interest of young people and eliminate funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. It will be a critical week as two of the largest federal funding streams for such programs are slated for consideration. In the Senate, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies marked up the FY09 appropriations bill today, including an allocation for the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program; the Senate Appropriations Committee will meet on Thursday, June 26th. In the House, the Appropriations Committee will also meet this Thursday to ratify the subcommittee recommendations, which last week included flat-funding for CBAE.

Meanwhile, earlier today the House passed H.R. 6331, the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, on the suspension calendar. That bill contains a 12-month extension for the Title V abstinence-only program that provides $50 million for states to fund abstinence-only efforts. The Senate tried and failed to pass a similar Medicare bill on June 12th that contained an indefensible 18-month extension of the Title V program, despite the fact that 17 states have declined to take the money, believing that the program is not in the best interest of their youth. The Senate is expected to readdress the issue later this week.

The following can be attributed to Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“There is no question that all programs offering young people education or guidance about human sexuality should urge them to delay sexual activity. However, federally-funded programs focusing exclusively on abstinence are at odds with good public health policy and raise serious civil liberties concerns. Congress should not support programs that censor medically accurate information, reinforce gender stereotypes, provide inaccurate or misleading information, promote religion, serve a narrow ideological agenda, and jeopardize the well-being of young people. But despite the overwhelming evidence that abstinence-only programs don’t work, Congress remains in the grip of proponents of this failed policy and seems unable or unwilling to disengage itself.

“Young people deserve the truth. At some point, everyone is faced with important decisions about their sexuality. We do young people no favors by censoring information and failing to give them all the tools they need to make well-informed decisions. More than anything, we want them to have all the facts, and we want them to be safe.”

Through CBAE, the Department of Health and Human Services distributes grants to community-based organizations that provide abstinence-only education programs in schools in compliance with a strict eight-point definition of abstinence. Title V is a federal and state matching program, under which states contribute three dollars for every four federal dollars, and from that pot of money, distribute grants to organizations to provide an unambiguous abstinence-only message in schools. Programs receiving funds from either source may not endorse, promote, or provide information about contraceptive use, except to emphasize their (often exaggerated) failure rates.

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