Oversight of Abstinence-Only Programs Moved to “Friendlier” Agency

The recently passed omnibus spending bill included an authorization for Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson to move oversight of the two largest federal abstinence-only education grant-giving programs within the agency from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). The decision to change the oversight agency to ACF, which the Washington Times described as “friendlier” to abstinence-only education, has raised concern that political objectives could overpower medical science in the running of the abstinence-only programs. The ACF is the agency responsible for promoting marriage for mothers on welfare.

“We’re concerned about the politics that may go into the oversight of these programs,” Marcela Howell, Public Policy Director at Advocates for Youth told the Washington Times. The director of ACF, Wade Horn, “clearly has an ideology to push,” Howell said. The Washington Times reported Horn as saying that he assumes only qualified abstinence-only programs have been funded by HHS in the past, and that ACF will be diligent in its oversight. In the past five years, several million children have been subjected to over 100 abstinence-only sex education programs, none of which have been reviewed for accuracy by the government that funds them.

Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) recently released a report reviewing federally funded abstinence-only sex education programs, which found that 11 of 13 most popular programs are teaching medically inaccurate information and harmful gender stereotypes to much of the country’s youth between the ages of nine and 18. The 11 programs, many which are based on old, disproved studies, are used by 69 organizations in 25 states and are teaching “false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health,” according to the report. In the recently passed $388 billion spending bill, nearly $170 million was allocated for abstinence-only education programs, more than double the amount of money spent by the government on these programs four years ago when President Bush took office.

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Washington Times 12/30/04; Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report 1/3/05; Feminist Daily News Wire 10/18/04, 12/8/04

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