WASHINGTON (AP) -- A House committee has voted to renew a sexual abstinence program after turning back a Democratic attempt to let states decide whether to include discussion of birth control methods.
The debate contrasted to five years ago when Congress included the program in welfare legislation with virtually no public discussion.
Majority Republicans defended the "abstinence-only" program, and the House Commerce Committee voted 35-17 on Wednesday to extend it for five years.
Nothing requires states to take the restricted dollars, said committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La.
Democrats spoke in favor of "abstinence-plus" programs, which already are used in many schools across the country. Such programs emphasize that abstaining from sex is a person's best choice and the only sure way to prevent pregnancy and disease, but they urge those who have sex anyway to use condoms or other protections.
The federal law bars discussion of the benefits of birth control and instructs programs to teach that any sex outside marriage has harmful consequences.
"A gag rule on information is no way to solve a serious health problem," said Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, the only state that has opted out of the program.
On a mostly party-line, 32-22, vote, the committee rejected an amendment that would have given states power to create alternate programs with the money.
The panel also rejected a Democratic amendment that would have required that only medically accurate information be included in the programs.
Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., argued that many of these programs are exaggerating the failure rate of condoms and "trying to use terror techniques to keep teens from having sex." Republicans responded that it would be impossible to agree on what information is medically accurate.
In the last five years, abstinence-only programs have proliferated, drawing on $50 million in annual federal dollars and nearly that much in state money. Programs include media campaigns that urge teen-agers to say no to sex, as well as classes in public schools that teach the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and the importance of self-esteem.
Congress also has created an additional abstinence-only program that offers direct federal grants. This program was created after critics complained that states were failing to truly encourage abstinence by using the money for generic after-school programs and media campaigns.
An evaluation of the larger, state-run program has yet to publish results indicating whether these programs are successful in preventing teen-age sex, pregnancy or disease. An interim report released Tuesday by the Bush administration confirmed there still is no evidence that abstinence-only programs work.
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