On November 20th, long after the October 1 start of the new fiscal year, the federal government finally passed an appropriations bill that provides money for government programs and services. Most federal agencies have been operating at Fiscal Year 2004 funding levels under a measure known as a "continuing resolution" since October 1.
The new spending measure, H.R. 4818, is an "omnibus" bill which means that it funds many departments and agencies under one bill. Traditionally, separate departmental bills have been passed one at a time but in recent years Congress has found it necessary to bundle them together in order to finish their work. The $388 billion spending bill includes funding for 13 government departments and many agencies. Funding for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill which covers much of the federal government's spending on reproductive and sexual health programs is included in this omnibus bill as are eight other spending measures. The omnibus bill passed the House by a 344 to 51 vote and the Senate by a 65 to 30 vote.
Advocates of comprehensive sexuality education were not surprised that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs were given substantial increases even in light of the tight fiscal restrictions placed on appropriators. In his budget request to Congress, President Bush asked that the programs receive a total of $272 million, practically double what they received in Fiscal Year 2004. And, although specific numbers varied, in their own spending bills, both the House and the Senate voted to increase abstinence-only-until-marriage funding.
Ultimately, the omnibus bill increased spending on these programs to $167.5 million from $138 million in Fiscal Year 2004.
The Community-Based Abstinence Education grant program (which until now had been known as "SPRANS-CBAE" but will officially become Community-Based Abstinence Education grants when the bill is signed and the account moves from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau to the Administration for Children and Families) was funded at $75 million in Fiscal Year 2004. It received $100 million for Fiscal Year 2005. The House had passed $110 million for this account and the Senate had passed $105 million. The bill also allows that up to $10 million of the total funds set aside for abstinence education in the CBAE account may be made available for a national abstinence education campaign. An additional $4.5 million was also appropriated for evaluations of "adolescent pregnancy prevention approaches."
The omnibus bill also appropriated $13 million for the abstinence-only-until-marriage portion of the Adolescent Family Life Act. This is the same amount as has been appropriated in recent years. The House version of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education bill had also allocated $13 million to this account while the Senate had allocated $17 million. Title V, which was authorized in conjunction with the Welfare Reform Law of 1996, maintains its entitlement funding of $50 million in Fiscal Year 2005.
"The abstinence-only-until-marriage industry is feeding heavily at the federal trough and enjoying payback for their political support," said Bill Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. "That said, the fact that the President's request for an increase in funding to $272 million was not fulfilled demonstrates that these programs do not have the unwavering support that is so often claimed by proponents of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs."
While abstinence-only-until-marriage received large increases, Title X, the nation's family planning program, received $288 million in the omnibus bill, an increase of just $10 million over Fiscal Year 2004 funding levels. Advocates of reproductive and sexual health maintained that an increase to $350 million was needed to maintain high-quality services provided in Title X clinics and to utilize newly available technologies in contraceptive options, cancer detection, and sexually transmitted disease detection and treatment.
Also included in the omnibus bill is a provision added by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) that would prohibit federal, state, or local governments from requiring hospitals, doctors, health care plans, and other entities to provide abortion services or referrals. The provision is modeled after the "Abortion Non-Discrimination Act" which passed the House in 2002. By allowing these providers and entities to refuse to comply with laws and regulations pertaining to abortion services, countless women will be denied access to reproductive health services. The greatest impact will be felt in the states that use their own funds to provide abortion services to recipients of Medicaid.1
Weldon's provision was included in the House version of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill where there were not enough votes to block the amendment. Advocates of reproductive and sexual health were relying on Senate negotiators to ensure that it would not be included in the final bill. Unfortunately, the Senate was in a "lame-duck" session following the November elections in which conservative lawmakers gained seats in both the House and the Senate. In addition, pro-choice Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), who was expected to play a big role in the blocking of the provision, was locked in a battle over his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee.
Objections from pro-choice Senators on this issue threatened to delay the passing of the omnibus bill. Nine female senators, including Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), signed a letter to Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) asking that he repeal the language. Only after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) promised Sen. Boxer that he would bring her bill which would repeal the provision to the floor of the Senate by April 30, 2005 did some of the Senators relent. The provision was included in the final bill.
"Rep. Weldon is wholly out of step with the American public on this issue and his party's leaders are afraid to reign him in," said Bill Smith. "This is a classic case of overreach that threatens the health and well-being of women and families," he continued.
- For more information on Medicaid coverage of abortion services, see The Alan Guttmacher Institute's research.