Senate Finance Committee Approves Amendment Providing Millions for Abstinence Education

September 30, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday night approved an amendment providing tens of millions of dollars to fund abstinence education programs for teens.

The proposal, offered by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would provide $50 million per year through 2014 exclusively for abstinence education programs. The measure would effectively reinstate the controversial Title V program, which offered $50 million per year to states for abstinence education, but prohibited them from tapping the funds for other sex-ed subjects like contraception. The same prohibition would accompany the Hatch amendment. “Abstinence education works,” the Utah Republican said.

The vote was 12 to 11, with Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.) voting with every Republican to secure passage of the measure.

The proposal’s success caught Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) off guard. The Finance Chairman had offered an alternative to Hatch’s proposal, which would provide funding to a broader swath of teen wellness programs, including those addressing contraception, HIV/AIDS, healthy relationships and financial literacy.

Abstinence education programs could be included in Baucus’s alternative, Finance Committee staff said, if it’s deemed a “medically accurate and complete” strategy promoting teen health. Baucus, though, doesn’t think that’s the case. “Abstinence education programs, I think, have been ineffective,” he said.

The Baucus measure passed 14 to 9, providing a rare instance of a Republican amendment and the chairman’s alternative passing the committee back to back. Baucus blamed the late hour for that anomaly. “We’re getting to 10 o’clock,” he said. “[Strange] things start to happen after 10 o’clock.”

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