REAL Act Would End Federal ‘Abstinence-Only’ Policy
The federal government currently allots funding for state sex-education curricula provided that states teach sexual abstinence until marriage. Millions of dollars have gone to states whose curricula take that approach.
The Responsible Education About Life, or REAL Act (H.R. 1653), which is currently parked at the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Health, would make “comprehensive sex education” eligible for federal funding and would allow schools to teach students about condoms and contraceptives alongside abstinence-only curricula.
Though the bill defines abstinence as “the only sure way to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases,” it would specifically mandate “information about the health benefits and side effects of all contraceptives and barrier methods as a means to reduce the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.”
The legislation has gained substantial support in Congress since it was introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in March of last year. Currently, it has 106 House cosponsors, including three of Lee’s fellow California Democratic representatives: Linda T. Sanchez, Lynn Woolsey and Diane Watson. Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) is the lone Republican co-sponsor.
An identical Senate version was introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).
“We need to get real about sex education,” Lee said at a March 27 Capital Hill news conference. “We should absolutely be teaching young people about abstinence, but we shouldn’t be holding back information that can save lives and prevent unwanted pregnancies.”
Lee, who is co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – a liberal entity – and sits on the House Appropriations Committee, derided the Bush administration during the hearings held by the Labor/Health and Human Services/Education subcommittee on the Fiscal Year 2009 budget for proposing an increase in funding for abstinence-only programs.
“I’m disappointed to see that once again the president has requested an increase in funding for abstinence-only education programs of nearly $28 million within the Administration for Children and Families, despite study after study after study proving that abstinence-only programs are completely ineffective,” she said.
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, a conservative group, and a supporter of the current abstinence-only policy, said Lee’s bill could come into play later this year, if opponents of abstinence make gains this fall.
The bill is an attempt to stop real abstinence from being taught in schools, Wright said.
“Common sense tells us that if you encourage people to do the right thing, they’re more likely to do the right thing, and the same kinds of messages we use for different issues such as smoking – we tell people not to smoke – we expect that that’s going to have positive outcomes, and in fact it does have positive outcomes,” Wright said.
“So it makes sense to use the same kind of messages that have worked on other topics and apply them to this area,” she said.
Wright also questioned the validity of the studies often cited by congressmen who support comprehensive sex education.
“You have to look at who is behind those studies – who actually did the studies – and oftentimes you’ll find that they are people who somehow profit from comprehensive sex education,” she told Cybercast News Service.
Wright also condemned a report issued by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in 2004, which Lee cites as evidence of the ineffectiveness of the abstinence-only approach.
“The Waxman Report was refuted. It was based on fraudulent information – on old curriculum that’s no longer used,” Wright said. “The Waxman Report was a political ploy – it was released by a congressman who is an arch opponent of abstinence education and a huge supporter of abortion and comprehensive sex-ed programs and the groups that promote those,” Wright said.
Lee’s office did not return calls from Cybercast News Service by press time. The bill is not expected to advance until after the election.