The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced the recipients of a $5 million federal grant designated for abstinence-only education programs. Although President Obama has opposed funding for abstinence-only programs since the beginning of his time in office, his administration created a new community abstinence funding program as part of the 2012 budget.
The Obama administration’s reluctant support of abstinence education has been a concession to social conservatives in Congress. Despite the fact that abstinence-only curricula are ineffective and, in many cases — when young adults make risky sexual decisions after abstinence education fails to equip them with the resources they need — dangerous, conservatives lawmakers have repeatedly pushed funding through.
During the battle to pass Obama’s landmark health care reform law in 2010, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) used the Senate version of the health care reform bill to restore a lapsed program that provides funding for abstinence programs. Although President Obama eliminated the Title V Abstinence Education program in his 2010 budget, finally doing away with the steadily increasing federal funding for abstinence programs that ballooned under the George W. Bush administration, Hatch’s bill — which narrowly squeaked by the Senate Finance Committee — forced the Obama administration to reverse that decision in order to pass health care reform. Similarly, in budget negotiations for the 2012 fiscal year, Congress included a Competitive Abstinence Education Grant Program to require federal funding for abstinence curricula over the next two years.
Earlier this month, the funds appropriated in the 2012 budget were distributed to nine organizations that provide “mentoring, counseling and adult supervision to promote abstinence from sexual activity.” Of course, abstinence-only curricula advance those goals while neglecting to impart accurate information about methods to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as failing to include comprehensive discussions about sexuality and the LGBT community.
Although the Obama administration has attempted to take some steps toward eliminating federal funds for abstinence education programs, social conservatives’ insistence on clinging to a misguided approach to sex education has brought the country right back. As the spokesperson for the right-wing National Abstinence Education Association put it, “[Obama administration officials] were specifically tasked by Congress to appropriate these funds for an authentic abstinence education program. So they really had no recourse but to do just that.”