Thursday, February 10, 2005

Democrats on Capitol Hill yesterday called for a new sex-education funding program that matches abstinence-education funding dollar for dollar.

Young people “deserve this and they need it,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, lead sponsor of the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) bill, which calls for $206 million in federal funding for comprehensive sex education — the same amount proposed this week for abstinence education in President Bush’s budget.

“For years, taxpayer dollars have been flooding into unproven abstinence-only programs while there’s no federal program that’s dedicated to the comprehensive view,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, who is co-sponsoring the REAL bill in the Senate with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

With strictly defined federal abstinence grants, the government is saying, “You’ve got to learn sex our way and you’ve got to learn about how you control your behavior our way,” Mr. Lautenberg told a roomful of teens, parents and sex-education supporters at a Capitol Hill event.

“Well, we’re not going to stand still [for that],” he said. Abstinence-only education “only tells young people half the story, and they need the full picture.”

Abstinence-education supporters disagree there has been no federal funds for comprehensive sex education.

In an analysis of federal funding for family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention and other forms of contraception education, Republican and conservative groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, have concluded that for every $1 spent on abstinence education, the federal government spends $12 on condom- and birth control-related activities.

Sex-education supporters like Planned Parenthood Federation of America and NARAL Pro-Choice America say these comparisons are not fair— “like apples and oranges,” several spokeswomen said yesterday — because providing health services is not the same as funding school programs.

Still, funding parity for abstinence education that promotes saving sex for marriage and does not advocate for birth control was a campaign promise Mr. Bush made when he first ran for president. Since he took office, abstinence education funds have more than doubled, from $80 million a year to $167 million for fiscal 2005.

Comprehensive sex-education advocates acknowledge that their view is out of favor with the Bush administration and much of the Republican-led Congress. But they are hoping to find bipartisan support with this year’s bills.

Mr. Kennedy’s co-sponsorship of the REAL Act is particularly heartening, said William Smith, policy director of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

“If there’s any larger champion of public health, I don’t know who they are,” Mr. Smith said yesterday.

“We’re going to win,” Ms. Lee said, adding that her bill already has 65 co-sponsors.

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