The Bush Administration continues to promote an “abstinence only” approach to reproductive and sexual health, significantly scaling back efforts to promote family planning and contraceptive use. Bush has taken several measures to restrict family planning services, both at home and abroad, since his inauguration. Most recently, an ordained Catholic deacon working with the Department of Health and Human Services questioned family planning programs that are designed by the Centers for Disease Control and aimed to help parents discuss sexual health with their children. He believes such programs run counter to the Catholic beliefs of HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson.
In the wake of significant reductions in teen pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, public health experts now question whether this approach stems from ideology or science. Marcia Swearingen, assistant director of the Why Know abstinence program, celebrated the program’s $254,000 federal grant stating “I know it’s not scientific, but we’re encouraged.” Meanwhile, according to a 1997 study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, “there does not currently exist any scientifically credible, published research” that show abstinence-only programs delay or reduce sexual activity. In the same year, a panel on HIV convened by the National Institutes of Health claimed “abstinence only programs cannot be justified in the face of effective programs and given the fact that we face an international emergency in the AIDS epidemic.”
For the current fiscal year, Congress approved a $20 million increase in funding for abstinence-only programs, a figure that is expected to increase to $30 million next year. Administration officials report that their goal is to spend $135 million on such programs, which would match the stagnant amount of funding allocated for family planning.