Bush Calls for Doubling of Abstinence Funding
Despite research around the country casting doubt on the effectiveness of abstinence programs to fight HIV and sexually transmitted disease infections, President Bush in his State of the Union address Tuesday called for a doubling of federal funding for the programs. If approved by Congress, federal spending on abstinence programs would climb to more than $270 million in fiscal 2005, according to The Washington Post. "Each year, about three million teenagers contract sexually transmitted diseases that can harm them, or kill them, or prevent them from ever becoming parents," Bush said. "In my budget, I propose a grassroots campaign to help inform families about these medical risks. We will double federal funding for abstinence programs, so schools can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases." He added, "Decisions children now make can affect their health and character for the rest of their lives. All of us--parents and schools and government--must work together to counter the negative influence of the culture and to send the right messages to our children." AIDS activists and lawmakers, including some Republicans, criticized Bush's decision to devote more federal money to abstinence education. "When it comes to some of the social issues, like marriage or birth control, those are best left to the states," said Rep. Rob Simmons, a Connecticut Republican. AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein said the proposal is dangerous. "There is simply no scientific basis for abstinence-only programs as a substitute for quality sex education in preventing HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases," he said in a press release. "America will pay a terrible price for turning HIV prevention over to the Christian right as the president seems to want to do." Right-wing groups, however, praised the President's proposal. "I am pleased that President Bush has unashamedly endorsed abstinence education and programs as the single best way to prevent our children from paying the awful price that sexually transmitted diseases extract from those who are sexually active outside the bounds of marriage," said Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson. "Our children need to hear the life-giving message that abstinence before marriage and monogamy after marriage are the safest and most rewarding expressions of intimate love." Bush didn't specifically mention domestic AIDS programs in his State of the Union Address, but Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson last week said the president's proposed fiscal 2005 budget will include $38 million in additional AIDS funding, $35 million of which will go to AIDS Drug Assistance Programs. That proposed ADAP spending increase is the smallest percentage increase for the program since Bush took office.