Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Abstinence Scam?

How much money can you spend telling students: "Don't Do It!"? A lot, it seems:

For years, conservatives have complained about what they saw as the liberal tilt of federal grant money. Taxpayer funds went to abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood to promote birth control, and groups closely aligned with the AFL-CIO got Labor Department grants to run worker-training programs.

In the Bush administration, conservatives are discovering that turnabout is fair play: Millions of dollars in taxpayer funds have flowed to groups that support President Bush's agenda on abortion and other social issues.

Under the auspices of its religion-based initiatives and other federal programs, the administration has funneled at least $157 million in grants to organizations run by political and ideological allies, according to federal grant documents and interviews.

An example is Heritage Community Services in Charleston, S.C. A decade ago, Heritage was a tiny organization with deeply conservative social philosophy but not much muscle to promote it. An offshoot of an antiabortion pregnancy crisis center, Heritage promoted abstinence education at the county fair, local schools and the local Navy base. The budget was $51,288.

By 2004, Heritage Community Services had become a major player in the booming business of abstinence education. Its budget passed $3 million -- much of it in federal grants distributed by Bush's Department of Health and Human Services -- supporting programs for students in middle school and high school in South Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky.

One way of looking at this giveaway is as political payback. You give money to those who gave you votes, and if the Democrats got the money in the past now it is time for the social conservatives to milk the taxpayers. But another and a more ethical way would be to ask what is actually being done with all this money. What effect does abstinence education have? What are all these other faith-based programs achieving? Anything at all? Remember that this bonanza for the wingnuts is taking place at the same time as the administration is cutting funding for such proven programs as screening for cervical cancer among poor women.