This year, 13 groups (.pdf) will each receive a $150,000 grant from Florida’s Department of Health for the state’s abstinence education program.
Florida’s program adheres to Section 510 of Title V of the Social Security Act. According to a Department of Health website, this means each of the grant awardees has to provide an educational or motivational program that teaches students that abstinence is the only sure way to “avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems” and that “sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects,” among other things.
The state’s abstinence-only education program has not seen the same decrease in funding in the past two years that other groups that provide care and education to women before and after pregnancy, such as Healthy Start, have.
Since 2009 (.pdf), spending on grant awardees for the abstinence education program went from $2.22 million to $1.95 million. That’s about a 12 percent drop.
Healthy Start coalitions lost about 15 percent of their funding in just one year. The coalitions provide health care for needy mothers, as well as information for the mothers before and after pregnancy.
Family planning aid saw an 18 percent decrease in funding since 2009. Family planning aid goes to health centers that usually provide birth control and other services to needy women. The money also sometimes goes to comprehensive sex education such as information about birth control, preventative medicine and information about STDs for young people.
This year, Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast has lost thousands of dollars for teen sexual health programs serving young people in Palm Beach County because of cuts to family planning aid for local governments. The program would have provided one-on-one sex education, birth control services and STD testing and treatment for 200 more teens in the area.
Crisis pregnancy centers remain one of the few programs that have not lost a dime in state funding. CPCs have a history of providing medically inaccurate information to women in an effort to dissuade them from having an abortion. Besides providing pregnancy tests, CPCs offer little-to-no health services for women. A Pinellas County CPC is among the 13 organizations receiving an abstinence education grant this year from the state.
Linda Sutherland, the executive director for the Healthy Start coalition in Orange County, calls Florida’s budget decisions an “oxymoron.”
State legislators this year have made limiting access to abortions a priority, while effective and comprehensive ways to avoid an unplanned pregnancy altogether (and care if a women does decide to keep the pregnancy) have seen massive reductions in state funding.
Nan Gould, a sex education specialist with Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, says with the high rate of teen pregnancies and the growing problem of teenagers contracting HIV in the U.S., it is important that schools provide robust comprehensive sex education programs.
However, Florida’s own state policy requires schools to “teach abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age students.” Yet, each district interprets that statute differently. For example, Manatee County has opted for a more comprehensive sex education policy, while Baker County has decided to adopt a very strict abstinence-only policy.
The abstinence education program in Florida also faced controversy recently. The Florida Independent reported that a group called Project SOS had recieved $1.5 million from the state since 2001. The Jacksonville abstinence education program was found to have ties to Ugandan Pastor Martin Ssempa, a vocal proponent of the death penalty for homosexuality. Since the Independent’s reporting, the group has since stopped applying for state grants.