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Congress Temporarily Extends Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Program

On September 27, 2007, Congress passed another three month extension of the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program.  Passage of HR 3668 extends the Transitional Medical Assistance (TMA), the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program, and Qualifying Individuals programs for three months, and modifies other Medicare and Medicaid programs. The extension passed the House by voice vote and the Senate by unanimous consent. The Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program is now extended through December 31, 2007.

In August, the House of Representatives, under the leadership of Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, passed substantive improvements to the current law that would have provided states with the flexibility they need to craft appropriate interventions for their young people which discuss abstinence but may also include information on birth control, and required funded programs to be medically accurate and proven effective at decreasing teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease (STDs), or HIV/AIDS rates.  While these improvements were passed as part of the House of Representative’s version of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), they were not included in the final legislation.

Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill criticized the extension. In his floor statement, Chairman Dingell explained, “Sadly, those changes are not incorporated into the bill before us today because opponents of the House-passed abstinence language decided to hold hostage the important reauthorizations of TMA and Q1, in an effort to ensure that no improvements were made to the discredited abstinence-only programs. Because it is absolutely necessary that we reauthorize TMA and Q1, the abstinence-only education changes were sacrificed … for now.” He continued, “Let me be clear: I am dismayed that the House-passed abstinence-only language was omitted from this legislation and I will continue to fight for those important, responsible, and necessary changes in the coming months.”1

Representative Henry Waxman supported Chairman Dingell’s commitment to continue the fight on Title V and stated that, “Keeping federal abstinence-only programs in the form they’ve taken for the past ten years is an embarrassment to Congress, an insult to taxpayers and a disservice to the health of American young people. We all support promoting abstinence as the healthiest choice for young people. But the abstinence-only programs we’ve been funding are a mistake. They contain serious misinformation and, most importantly, are not effective in improving adolescent health. ”2 

In his floor statement, Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) expressed “a great sense of frustration” that the other health programs which low-income income individuals depend on were being “held hostage through their attachment to the Title V Abstinence Education program, a program which is ineffective, which prizes ideology over science, and which harms our children through the provision of medically inaccurate information.”  Congressman Moran expressed his “sincerest hope and conviction that any long-term reauthorization of Title V that passes this House this year will include similar language [to that passed in August].”3

The extension was yet another disappointment for advocates who expected some significant policy changes from the new Congressional leadership after a decade-long expansion of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs begun by the Gingrich Congress.

“This regrettable extension comes just months after the federal government’s own evaluation found this program to be an extraordinary waste of scarce resources that has done nothing to help young people make good and healthy decisions,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy for SIECUS.  He continued, “We recognize that there were significant political issues that hampered attempts to fix this program before it expired on September 30 and we remain committed to a dialogue that secures these improvements. We call upon this Congress to pass the House fixes to this program if it is extended into 2008.”

References

  1. “Floor Statement of the Honorable Representative John D. Dingell,” Committee on Energy and Commerce, accessed 2 October 2007, <http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_110/110st91.shtml>.
  2. “TMA, ABSTINENCE EDUCATION, AND QI PROGRAMS EXTENSION ACT OF 2007: Speech of Hon. Henry A. Waxman of California in the House of Representatives,” Congressional Record—Extensions of Remarks, 1 October 2007, p. E2024.
  3. “TMA, ABSTINENCE EDUCATION, AND QI PROGRAMS EXTENSION ACT OF 2007: Speech of Hon. James P. Moran of Virginia in the House of Representatives,” Congressional Record—Extensions of Remarks, 27 September 2007, p. E1997.

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