Congress

Just (Don't) Do It

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Problems with a federal program intended to promote sexual abstinence among unmarried teens show how even the simplest government attempts to modify behavior often have unintended consequences.

In its 1996 welfare overhaul bill, Congress established a $50 million system of block grants for states that set up "abstinence education" programs. Even as the first dollars were being spent, however, abstinence enthusiasts quarreled with the programs some states had designed. In a December 19 letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Va.) cited news reports of states that planned to use abstinence education money to expand after-school sports. In another letter to the program's administrator, Bliley and Rep. Bill Archer (R-Texas) contend that several states have placed people who favor "abstinence plus birth control" (whatever that means) in charge of their programs.