August 10, 2007
CAN TITLE V BE FIXED?
Will this still pass for sex-ed in Nebraska after the new Title V changes?
We're used to disputes between supporters of abstinence-until-marriage sex-ed and supporters of comprehensive sex-ed, but it came as a bit of a shock when two of the best-known defenders of comprehensive sex-ed, Advocates for Youth (AFY) and Sexuality Information Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), came down on opposite sides of the latest federal abstinence-only funding battle.
Last week the House of Representatives passed legislation renewing $50 million in funding for Title V—the second-largest stream of funding for abstinence-only sex ed—while radically retooling the language governing how the money can be used. The House's changes to Title V, which, without a renewal, would expire on Sept. 30, require funded programs to contain medically and scientifically accurate information, give states the flexibility to use more funds for comprehensive sex-ed programs that also discuss abstinence, and require funded programs to have been proven effective at decreasing teen pregnancy, STD and HIV/AIDS rates.
It's unclear how these new requirements can be squared with the non-negotiables of the original legislation: Title V's eight-point plan, drafted in 1998, stipulates funding for programming that "teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity."
Most comprehensive sex-ed advocates had hoped the Dems would simply let Title V expire, and AFY deplores the fact that they failed to do so. "Does a teenager, aged 15-19, growing up in Georgia have to move to New Jersey in order to avoid misinformation that HIV is spread through 'sweat or tears?'... And what about the over 50,000 girls, ages 15-19, growing up in Nebraska? Will they be taught to be submissive out of fear that their 'prince' will marry another woman?" AFY's press release fumed after the House renewed Title V.
In stark contrast to AFY, SIECUS sent out a press release last week exuberantly praising the House for its tinkering with Title V. "We commend the Democratic leaders in the House for tackling this difficult issue and recognizing that the future will not hold unlimited federal funding for the failed and extreme abstinence-only-until-marriage industry," William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS, said in the release.
Compromise or defeat?
AFY spokesperson Marcela Howell says that any money earmarked for abstinence-only education harms teenagers and that, under the present administration, there will be no oversight to make sure the House fixes are enforced. She adds that the legislation don't address the lack of sex-ed for LGBT students in ab-only programs or the emphasis on abstaining from sex until marriage, which doesn't exist for gays and lesbians in 49 states. "Whether young people get good, sound comprehensive sex education will still come down to geography. Just because states are allowed to teach comprehensive sex-ed doesn't mean they will," Howell said.
SIECUS spokesperson Patrick Malone acknowledges that the group would prefer to see Title V expire but says that renewing it is simply a matter of realpolitik. "There aren't large majorities for the Democrats. We still have an extremely unfriendly administration. These fixes are one of the first real positive signs we've seen in a while," he said, citing the disastrous increase in funding for the Community-Based Abstinence Education Program. "We shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water."
SIECUS isn't alone in supporting the changes to Title V. Planned Parenthood is taking a similar stand. "Anything that increases access to real sex education is a great thing," said Dena Czuczka, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood. "Of course, there's still way too much money for abstinence-only education, but this is an important first step." Danene Sorace, the executive director of ANSWER, a Rutgers University-based national organization that promotes comprehensive sex ed, said she's cautiously optimistic that the new House language will improve Title V, though she too would like to see it eliminated.
Howell isn't buying the conciliatory attitude of these groups. "If you go to Congressional members and present them with a compromise, then you're going to get a compromise," she said. "But if you say, 'We need to eliminate abstinence-only funding,' that's what they'll do. That's the difference between where AFY stands and where other groups stand. The Democrats were always critical of these programs, so it's the height of hypocrisy for them to keep them, and we shouldn't allow them to."
The House's Title V reauthorization was tacked on to the popular (except with Dubya and ultraconservatives) State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Because the Senate's version of SCHIP did not include Title V funding, the two houses will need to reconcile the bills when they return from their break. If SCHIP passes with enough votes to override Bush's threatened veto, it will raise the cigarette tax to expand health insurance for all poor children.
Advocates aren't sure what effect a rehabilitated Title V would have on the 11 states that have rejected its funds in protest of the abstinence-only requirements. Those states have been an important symbol of resistance to ab-only hegemony. AFY says that Ohio recently rejected Title V dollars, but the state indicated it has tentative plans to use the Title V money to teach abstinence as only one part of a comprehensive sex education curriculum.