- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2007

Americans overwhelmingly support birth control, comprehensive sex education and family planning services, according to a poll released yesterday at a briefing about the new “prevention first” reproductive health strategy.

More than 80 percent of 1,011 adults polled in May say they think birth control should be accessible, that it should be dispensed by pharmacists “without discrimination or delay,” and it should be covered by health insurance, said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, which conducted the poll.

In addition, 88 percent of adults agreed that public schools should teach sex education that includes information on abstinence and contraception, she said.

This shows that the American people back contraception as a way to reduce disease and unwanted pregnancy, said leaders of the Women Donors Network and Communications Consortium Media Center, who yesterday put up their new Web site, www.birthcontrolwatch.org. That site, as well as the National Council of Jewish Women’s new “Plan A” campaign, will offer public education on contraception.

Later in the day, however, pro-choice supporters and their allies were dismayed when the House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, education and related agencies voted to increase funding for the Community Based Abstinence Education program (CBAE) by $27.8 million, to $141 million. CBAE funds groups that teach youth how to be sexually abstinent but not how to use birth control.

“There is no other way to describe this concession but as shameful,” said William Smith of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

A recent federal study showed that abstinence education has no effect on teen sexual behavior, said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth. Voting for any funds for such programs is “a public slap in the face of public health policy,” he said.

But Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association applauded the vote, saying abstinence education “is a public health message that deserves to be continued.”

The same House panel voted to increase Title X family planning funding by $27.8 million, to $311 million, but family planning advocates said this still lags far behind historic levels of funding, when adjusted for inflation.

Yesterday’s briefing, held on the 42nd anniversary of the Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court ruling that declared laws against contraception to be unconstitutional, also highlighted a “must-pass” House bill aimed at increasing access to birth control and comprehensive sexuality education.

“Make no mistake: Access to contraception single-handedly improved women’s equality in American society,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat and lead sponsor of the Prevention First bill. Support for the bill is growing, she said, adding that even pro-life colleagues are beginning to understand that they “can’t have it both ways” — if they’re going to oppose abortion, they “have to support contraception.”