Senate Panel Narrowly Votes to Restore Abstinence-Funding in Health Reform Bill

Wed Sep 30, 2009 - 12:15 pm EST

By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 30, 2009 ( - Lawmakers on a Senate committee tasked with health-care reform narrowly voted on Tuesday night to approve the restoration of $50 million in annual federal funding for sex education that only promotes the practice of abstinence before marriage among youth.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 12-11 to restore the Title V abstinence-only funding by approving the amendment proposed last week by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to the health care reform bill: the America's Healthy Futures Act of 2009

Hatch's amendment would allot an annual $50 million in federal funds through 2014 for abstinence-only education. The funds could only be used for abstinence-before-marriage sex education and could not be siphoned off to fund contraceptive-projects.

President Barack Obama has sought to eliminate Title V funds and other federal abstinence grants in favor of funding condoms and contraceptive-based education to the tune of $150 million. Congress followed the President's budget recommendations, declining to renew Title V funding in June, and then a month later, by eliminating $99 million in federal funding grants for Community-Based Abstinence Education.

The Hatch amendment succeeded in passing only because two Democrats, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, broke ranks with Finance Chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to vote with all ten Republicans on the committee.

According to the Washington Independent, Chairman Baucus was surprised and chagrined at the passage of Hatch's amendment, which followed upon the 14-9 passage of Baucus's own alternative amendment that provides grants to education on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases as part of teenage wellness.

The Independent reports that Baucus, an opponent of abstinence-based education, last night blamed the lateness of the hour as the reason for the Hatch amendment's success.

"We're getting to 10 o'clock," Baucus said. "[Strange] things start to happen after 10 o'clock."

Both amendments would have to face approval by votes from the full House and Senate before becoming part of a final health-care reform bill.

(Read the draft mark-up version of the Finance Committee's "America's Healthy Futures Act of 2009" here.)

See related coverage by

House Follows Obama's Plan to Replace Abstinence Grant with Contraceptive Funding 

Obama Calls for Condom Funding to Replace Abstinence Education  

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