On December 29, 2007, President Bush signed a six-month extension of the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program which was set to expire on December 31, 2007. Congress had passed the extension earlier in the month as part of the Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Extension Act of 2007. The new expiration date for the Title V abstinence-only program is June 30, 2008. As has been the case for the last several extensions, the program was tied to the continuation of the Transitional Medical Assistance (TMA) program, a program supported by Democrats which helps low-income families with children transition to jobs by allowing them to keep their Medicaid coverage for a limited period of time after they find a job.
In early August 2007, as part of the United States House of Representatives’ consideration of State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), Representatives proposed reauthorizing the portion of Title V of the Social Security Act which currently provides states with $50 million in funding for extreme abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Under the leadership of Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the House passed substantive improvements to the current law designed to remedy some of the severe shortcomings of the existing Title V abstinence-only program.
The House-passed provisions would have provided states with the flexibility they need to craft appropriate interventions for their young people such as allowing states to create programs that discuss abstinence but may also include information on birth control. The provisions also required funded programs to be medically accurate and proven effective at decreasing teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease (STDs), or HIV/AIDS rates. While these improvements were passed as part of the House of Representative’s version of the SCHIP, they were not included in the final legislation.
Sixteen states have now withdrawn from participating in the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program. The overly strict stipulations of current law and the strong public health evidence against abstinence-only-until-marriage interventions are the most prominent arguments from states that are seeking a change to the law. The state flexibility provision would allow states to craft interventions appropriate for the young people of their state.
Congressional supporters and advocates are continuing work in 2008 to include the following provision in the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program:
- requiring funded programs to contain medically and scientifically accurate information;
- giving states the flexibility to use funds for more comprehensive programs which discuss abstinence, but may also include information on birth control; and
- requiring funded programs to have been proven effective at decreasing teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease (STDs), or HIV/AIDS rates.
“We recognize that there were significant political hurdles in the end of the year that hindered efforts to fix this program before it expired on December 31st of last year,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy for SIECUS. “We remain committed to a dialogue with Congressional supporters and House and Senate leadership to secure these improvements,” continued Smith.