(Image: quinn.anya under CC 3.0)
While technically related to health, it is surprising that funding for abstinence-only education is included in the recently passed health insurance reform bill. Over five years, the bill provides $250 million to states. These programs are used by schools to encourage remaining a virgin until marriage.
It is favored by social conservatives, many of whom did not support the bill in general. The approach, which does not mention contraception or other methods of safer sex, was popular during the George W. Bush administration but lost its funding under President Obama’s first federal budgets. Although abstinence is the only 100% effective strategy for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), most abstinence-only programs have been criticized for being unrealistic and misleading about other methods.
The provision was snuck into the bill at the last second by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch during Senate Finance Committee negotiations, angering and confusing opponents. Most Democrats weren’t going to let their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of increasing access to affordable health insurance to pass them by, despite the addition by a senator who had no intention of voting for the bill regardless. Some conservative Democrats, however, may also be in favor of the funding.