IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Specter abstains from abstinence earmarks

Endangered Senators
Last year's version of the bill approved by the committee included 22 earmarks sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, funneling $550,000 to abstinence programs.Susan Walsh / AP
/ Source: CQ Politics

As a Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter routinely secured funding for sexual abstinence education in Pennsylvania, making it a standard feature in spending bills for education, labor and health programs.

Not this year.

Specter did not request money for his state’s programs in the fiscal 2010 Labor-HHS-Education bill the Senate Appropriations Committee will consider Thursday.

The fiscal 2009 version of the bill approved by the committee last year included 22 earmarks sponsored by Specter, funneling $550,000 to abstinence programs.

The likely explanation for the change is Specter’s switch this year to the Democratic Party, which takes a dim view of relying on abstinence to reduce teen pregnancies. In the past, securing the funding allowed the pro-abortion rights Specter to show conservatives that he was with them, at least on one issue.

The explanation from Specter’s aides is that he wanted to focus this year’s earmark requests on hospitals and universities. They also noted that Specter began requesting the abstinence earmarks earlier this decade, when Pennsylvania stopped accepting other federal funding for abstinence education. The state reversed that policy last year.

Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., a supporter of abstinence education, said he wasn’t surprised that Specter stopped securing the earmarks after switching parties.

“He’s changed his group of allies,” Pitts said.

Neither the House nor Senate versions of the appropriations bill would provide funding for abstinence programs. Instead, they direct money to broader sex education programs. Pitts said there may be an effort to amend the Senate bill to include abstinence money.

Opponents of abstinence-only education are pleased with Specter’s decision to ditch the earmarks. “That’s awesome,” said Carol Petraitis, who works on the issue for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.