On March 2nd, the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services announced that it will be rejecting Title V abstinence-only until marriage funding for Fiscal Year 2007.1 Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio made a similar announcement on March 22nd, stating that his state has no plans to reapply for Title V after current funding runs out.2 Keith Dailey, spokesman for the governor, explained “The governor believes that continuing to pay for a program that has not been proven to work is an unwise use of tax dollars, particularly when we’re facing a very challenging or constrained budget environment.”3
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has allocated $50 million in federal funding each year to the states since the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program was authorized in 1996 under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. States that choose to accept these funds must match every four federal dollars with three state-raised dollars and are then responsible for either using the funds or distributing them to public and private entities.
Eight states, including California, New Jersey, and Maine, are now no longer participating in the Title V abstinence-only-until marriage funding. Including Ohio and Wisconsin’s returned funds, rejected Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program funding will amount to over 11 million unspent federal tax-payer dollars.
Initially, under the funding guideline, states had some limited flexibility to craft programs which emphasized specific points of the federal A through H definition of “abstinence education.” While still quite rigid, under these guidelines, states could create programs that better reflected the needs and realities of their young people. However, the most recent Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program announcement released for Fiscal Year 2007 takes away even this limited flexibility by stating that all proposals must emphasize all eight points of the A through H definition.
This announcement contained another worrisome change; the program must now focus on individuals ages 12 to 29. Historically, the program announcement did not give such specific restrictions on age, allowing many states to choose to focus on the importance of delaying sexual initiation among young people ages 9 to 14. This new focus on older youth and, indeed, those who no longer fall within the category of “youth” at all, goes against common sense. Furthermore, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, over 90% of people ages 20 to 29 have had sexual intercourse. Censoring information about how they can protect themselves is both bad public health practice and a violation of basic rights.
In addition, the new announcement further restricts the ability of programs to deliver medically accurate information about contraception and condoms. Past announcements stated that, “sex education programs that promote the use of contraceptives are not eligible for funding under this announcement.” The 2007 announcement, however, requires states to provide “assurances” that funded curricula and materials “do not promote contraception and/or condom use.” Stephanie Marquis of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services specifically mentioned this as a reason that Wisconsin rejected Title V funding.4
The new program announcement also required states to provide a list indicating which Congressional districts in the state are being served under the grant. This overt concern with the program’s operation in specific Congressional districts, rather than with its ability to effect behavioral change, suggests a level of political meddling that states ought not be burdened with when trying to help young people make healthy decisions.
Equally disturbing, however, is what the program announcement does not require. Rather than requiring any behavioral evaluation measures, the program announcement simply requires that states develop “one objective performance measure,” which can amount to something as meager as reporting the number of people the program has reached. No peer-reviewed, scientifically sound evaluation has yet to find abstinence-only-until-marriage programs to be effective. Nonetheless, the announcement states that funded entities are not required to conduct any rigorous or meaningful evaluation of their programs.
Gov. Strickland noted this short-coming in his plan for the rejection, citing that no conclusive evidence has shown that abstinence-only until marriage programs actually delay sexual activity for young people.5
Abstinence-only-until marriage proponents in the Ohio state legislature will most likely put up a fight against Gov. Strickland’s decision, which would translate to a loss of $1.6 million from the federal government.6 (This loss would be mitigated, however, by the corresponding elimination of $500,000 from the state’s budget which represented a portion of Ohio’s required match.) Republican Ohio State Representative Jay Hottinger stated that Gov. Strickland was, “likely to find a lot of legislative opposition to what he’s trying to do.”7
“These programs have reached an extreme and states are deciding that they are inconsistent with their public health mandates and their values,”8 explained William Smith, vice president for public policy for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.
- Judith Davidoff, “Doyle says no to abstinence dollars: Title V only pays if there’s no play,” The Capital Times, Madison WI (3 March 2007), accessed 27 March 2007. <http://www.madison.com/tct/mad/topstories/index.php?ntid=121450&ntpid=1>.
- Laura Bischoff, “Ohio won’t seek abstinence-only funds,” Dayton Daily News, 22 March 2007, accessed 27 March 2007, <http://www.daytondailynews.com/n/content/oh/story/news/local/
- Leila Atassi, “Ohio could become 8th state to reject abstinence-only money,” The Plain Dealer, 27 March 2007, accessed 27 March 2007.