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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Buried lead

You've got to get virtually to the end of today's Globe story on a budget battle over abstinence education story before you can really understand why the Massachusetts House is opting to retain a Mitt Romney-era program that funds abstinence-only education in schools.

Last year, the House stripped authorization for the grant out of the budget, but the Senate objected; a compromise was reached in a conference committee that included the caveat requiring the provision that the abstinence programs could only be taught if accompanied by a separate comprehensive sex education class. This year, after the governor stripped out the authorization, the House put it back in with the same condition.

Last year and this year, Raymond B. Ruddy -- president of the Gerard Health Foundation, which has given millions to antiabortion and abstinence groups -- hired lobbyist John Bartley to persuade lawmakers to include the funding in the budget for the program. Ruddy paid Bartley nearly $50,000 last year for his work on this single issue.

What we don't see is often more interesting than what we do.

On the face of it, the idea of abstinence-only education is absurd -- a Theocon-driven dream of a perfect society that exists only in Ozzie and Harriet re-runs. Teenagers and sex go together naturally -- quite literally -- and to think you can teach someone to ignore hormones is ludicrous.
"These programs are prohibited by federal regulation from discussing the prevention benefits of birth control, other than to emphasize the failure rate," said Angus McQuilken, vice president for public relations and governmental affairs for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. "That is a dangerously unrealistic and irresponsible approach.
There's no harm in teaching abstinence -- in conjunction with a curriculum that also covers the facts of life. The decision by the Patrick administration and other states that refuse to buckle to yet another absurd federal mandate (in an area where states traditionally have greatest leeway) is appropriate.

So is a House amendment to contest the policy. But only if that amendment is offered in the clear light of day -- which this one was not. Or if the pros and cons are debated on the floor, which has not happened.

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