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Legislation Introduced to Eliminate Failed Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Program, Shift Funding to Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Recognizing the substantial body of research proving abstinence-only-until-marriage programs to be “ineffective in stopping or delaying teen sex, reducing the number of reported sexual partners, reducing reported rates of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, or otherwise beneficially impacting young people’s sexual behavior,” and the fact that such programs require a censorship of medical information, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced the Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act of 2010 (S. 3878 and H.R. 6283), which would strike Title V, section 510 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 710) from statute, on September 29, 2010.[1] The failed Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage state-grant program, which Congress had allowed to expire on June 30, 2009, was resurrected during health care reform and renewed for five years, at a total cost to taxpayers of $250 million.
In addition to permanently eliminating this ideologically driven statute, this legislation would transfer the funding allocated for the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage state-grant program to the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP). Instituted as part of the recently passed health care reform legislation, PREP includes a state-grant program for comprehensive sexuality education programs. Funded state programs are required to replicate or incorporate elements of programs that have proven effective at “delaying sexual activity, increasing condom or contraceptive use for sexually active youth, or reducing pregnancy among youth” and include at least three of the adulthood preparation topics enumerated in the bill: adolescent development, educational and career success, financial literacy, healthy life skills, healthy relationships, and parent-child communication.[2]
Eliminating funding for the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program is vital to ensuring that young people receive accurate information in order to safeguard their health and well-being. The statute contains an eight-point federal definition of “abstinence education” that promotes marriage as the only acceptable lifestyle; does not address contraception other than to emphasize failure rates; and marginalizes and fails to give lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, those who already are sexually active, and those who have been sexually abused the information they need to avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
While current guidelines for grantees do not require that they communicate all eight points of the federal definition, as was the case during the administration of President George W. Bush, programs must focus exclusively on abstinence and cannot contradict any of the eight points. When the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program expired on June 30, 2009, nearly half of the states had opted not to accept the funding due to the restrictive nature of the definition and the fact that overwhelming evidence had proven funding such programs to be ineffective; however, given the relaxed guidelines, 30 states and Puerto Rico applied for the grant in Fiscal Year 2010. While some of the states may implement programs that focus primarily on younger ages or mentoring, state advocates have expressed concern that this increase will possibly result in even more young people not receiving the necessary information they need to make healthy decisions. On the other hand, 43 states and 2 U.S. territories applied for PREP funding, including 16 states and the Federated States of Micronesia, which applied exclusively for PREP funding. Of those 16 states, 2 (Illinois and Oklahoma) had accepted Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding in Fiscal Year 2009.
Senator Lautenberg and Representative Lee, both long-standing champions of comprehensive sexuality education, recognize that the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program has failed our nation’s young people and is fiscally irresponsible. Following the introduction of the Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act of 2010, Senator Lautenberg stated that the legislation “would eliminate wasteful spending and focus federal resources on comprehensive sex ed programs that are proven to work.”[3] He further affirmed, “Young adults need access to all the information available to make smart decisions about their health. Our nation’s young people should be able to get the education they need to take on the real life situations facing them every day.”[4]
Representative Lee concurred, noting, “We cannot afford to keep our head in the sand regarding issues surrounding sex education by restricting funding to abstinence-only programs. The issuesof unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections among our young people have reached a critical level. The best and most responsible way to protect them is through comprehensive sex education.”[5]
“SIECUS would like to express its sincere gratitude to Senator Lautenberg and Representative Lee for introducing the Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act of 2010 in order to ensure that our country uses its resources most effectively, funding programs that can best achieve the goal of teaching young people how to develop healthy and safe relationships,” comments Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. “We commend the senator and the congresswoman on their commitment to the health and well-being of young people, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights, and thank them for their dedication to ensuring that all students have access to medically accurate, age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education, free from stigma and prejudice.”

[1] Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act of 2010, S. 3878, 111th Congress, § 2.3 (2010), accessed 15 October 2010, <>.

[2] Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Pub. L. No. 111–148, 124 Stat. 119, § 2593, accessed 15 October 2010, <>.

[3] “Sen. Lautenberg, Rep. Lee Introduce Bill to Halt Federal Funding for Abstinence-Only Education,” Press Release published 29 September 2010, accessed 15 October 2010, <>.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.