Republicans Sneak Abstinence-Only Funding Into Medicare Fix

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Clarification: This piece has been updated to more accurately reflect the status of the budgeting process. Updated: 1:20 p.m.

The House of Representatives and the Senate have now both signed off on a bipartisan budget deal that the president is likely to sign and clears the way for normal appropriations to begin again. While animated and outraged politicos of every stripe will be busy declaring the end to budget brinksmanship for now with an eye toward pending re-election campaigns, another piece of legislation has flown under the radar. There has been very little attention paid to this: the Senate Finance Committee has already passed legislation likely to be approved by the full Senate that contains funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs (ab-only) that have been proven not to work.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), in his ongoing effort to carry water for religious conservatives, spearheaded the reallocation of $250 million dollars to ineffective ab-only programs through 2019 as part of the so-called Medicare doc fix, which would allow doctors to avoid a pay cut under current law. Hatch did the same thing with a $250 million dollar amendment for ab-only which he tacked onto the Affordable Care Act. In fact, ab-only groups have pulled in over a billion dollars in federal funding since 1996, the largest share coming under George W. Bush.

In a press release from the National Abstinence Education Association (the NAEA – a self-policing group woven out of whole cloth by former Bush administration appointees in an attempt to give ab-only legitimacy) Valerie Huber, President and CEO, lauded Hatch for his “ongoing leadership” and for his “unwavering commitment to optimal sexual health for America’s Youth.” The press release goes on to state that refunding the program through 2019 is essential so this “effective and best health approach can to continue to improve outcomes for youth currently receiving skills to avoid the consequences of teen sex.”

These programs grew out the anti-choice, anti-contraception Evangelical ideology that one must remain chaste until (heterosexual) marriage with no exception. Despite the fact the NAEA and others claim ab-only programs have been proved “effective,” the exact opposite is true. The American Psychological Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other science-based organizations have backed comprehensive sexual education and rejected the abstinence-only approach.

More disturbing than the $250 million in wasted funding is the new acronym the bill includes: Sexual Risk Avoidance or “SRA.” This new moniker is an attempt by abstinence-only evangelists at rebranding. Ab-only has some Bush-era baggage. In order to keep money flowing a little paint change could go a long way.

So what exactly is “SRA”?

The best example of sexual risk avoidance comes from our own military. In its attempts to curb rampant sexual abuse the Navy has implemented programs with names like “After Burner” and “Sex Signals.”

The New York Times reported during one of these sessions a Petty Officer at an Illinois base told a group of 100 recruits,
“Do you think ‘Ms. Sloppy Drunk’ can give consent for sexual intercourse?” Then saying, “Of course not. If this happens, it’s like an insider attack.”
Reducing a young woman to a “Ms. Sloppy Drunk” archetype is SRA in a nutshell. Over $500,000 was allocated for these programs.

It is the same in our classrooms. During a 2010 in-school assembly, Shelley Donahue of ab-only program “WAIT (Why Am I Tempted) Training cautioned young girls against wearing revealing clothes in this video. Donahue goes to say, “Boys were made to pursue girls and girls were made to wait to be pursued by boys…we have an entire generation of girls looking for daddy love” and likened girls vaginas to little “Hoover vacuums.”

Other “sexual risk avoidance” illustrations in public schools include the spit cup demonstration. The assembled school kids pass around a cup each one spits in it and at the end, the instructor holds up the cup saying it is actually a teenage girl. Then asks the question, looking at the spit filled cup – who will want to date her now? A similar example uses wads of used chewing gum or dirty pieces of clear packing tape as young woman: Ms.-Sloppy-Drunk-light for the high school set.

WAIT Training – now known as the Center for Relationship Education – received millions upon millions in federal funding despite being cited for using inaccurate medical information, using ethically questionable tactics to access taxpayer funded grants as well as claiming the HPV vaccine leads to female sterility. Most recently, WAIT was awarded $1.8 million in fiscal year 2011. And they are just one of scores of ab-only programs we are funding.

Back to that dollar amount $250 million in the budget – a drop in the bucket to be sure. However the amount isn’t really the political issue. Proximity to power is. Right-wing Christian ideologues are still at the legislative table be they pushing for ineffective, religiously based ab-only programs or abortion bans. Common wisdom of beltway observers claim our country – therefore our politicians – are turning away from the religious far-right. But, we ignore the role these people and groups play at a local and national level at our own (and our kids) peril.

Andy Kopsa is a freelance investigative reporter based in New York City. Her work has published with The Atlantic, Village Voice Media, Ms., Al Jazeera, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation among many others. She is a 2013 recipient of The Knights Grant for Reporting on Religion in American Public Life through USC Annenberg and the winner of a 2013 Best Investigative Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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