- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

Sexual-abstinence programs that bar any discussion of birth control or condoms to prevent pregnancy or AIDS are in line for a 33 percent increase in the budget President Bush is to submit to Congress.
Spending on "abstinence-only" education has been climbing over the past five years, as conservatives argue that teaching teen-agers about contraception indirectly condones teen sex. Critics say there is little evidence showing abstinence-only programs work.
The president will propose $135 million for such programs next year, an increase of $33 million, according to an administration official who spoke Wednesday on the condition of anonymity.
The request fulfills a pledge Mr. Bush made during his presidential campaign to spend as much on promoting abstinence as some have calculated the government spends educating teens about contraception.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson noted the programs are very popular with many of his Republican colleagues, though he acknowledged a paucity of evidence with regard to their effectiveness.
"The president feels, the administration feels, a lot of people in Congress feel that this is a much better way to attempt to solve this problem of teen-age pregnancy," Mr. Thompson said. "Let's try them out and see if we can't get it to work."
Mr. Thompson said he is interested to see the results of extensive research on the program now under way. "I'm a results-oriented kind of person," he said.
Proponents argue that the nation has spent considerable money on birth-control services, yet nearly 900,000 teen-agers get pregnant each year and one in three American babies is born to unmarried parents.
Opponents say it's unrealistic to push abstinence alone, given that many teen-agers already are having sex, and the surgeon general and others say there is no evidence the programs work.
"I find it stunning that an administration that touts the values of science when it comes to environmental policy can't run fast enough away from science when it comes to sexual health," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, which supports "abstinence-plus" programs. These encourage teens to say no to sex but suggest contraceptives and condoms for those who do not.
Intense debate over abstinence-only programs began in 1995 and 1996, when Congress was writing the massive welfare overhaul. The final legislation included $50 million per year for abstinence education, to be nearly matched by participating states. The money may not be combined with programs that discuss the benefits of contraception.
Under the law, the programs must meet one of eight goals. Among them teaching that sex outside marriage probably would have harmful psychological and physical effects.

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