The U.S. House of Representatives handed a narrow defeat Thursday to conservatives, who wanted to
forbid the National Institutes of Health from giving grants to researchers conducting four sexual research projects. The projects include a study of HIV-related behavior by San Francisco's Asian prostitutes and a study of American Indian and native Alaskan gay and lesbian "two-spirited" individuals.
The 212-210 vote derailed an effort led by Rep. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania to block the grants, which are expected to total $1.4 million, for next year. The debate recalled fights waged in Congress a decade ago over projects financed by the National Endowment for the Arts when conservatives led by former senator Jesse Helms argued that taxpayers should not finance objectionable works of arts.
"I ask my colleagues, who thinks this stuff up?" Toomey said of the sexual research projects he singled out. "These are not worthy...of taxpayer funds."
Opponents said it would be a dangerous precedent for lawmakers to kill the projects. "We have no business making political judgments on those issues," said Rep. David Obey.
The National Institutes of Health receives 120,000 grant applications a year, awarding funds to about a third of them, said Rep. Ralph Regula. The agency, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, is the government's main source of biomedical research.