Congress ends abstinence programs, allows needle exchanges


An appropriations bill passed by Congress last weekend is being hailed by public health advocates for ending funding for abstinence-until-marriage sex education and eliminating the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs. Minnesota is one of a three dozen states that allow drug users to have access to unused needles and is one of a few states which has rejected federal abstinence funds.

“This bill marks the first time since 1981 that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs will not receive dedicated federal funding in the coming fiscal year,” Jen Heitel Yakush, assistant director for public policy at SIECUS told RH Reality Check.

In 2007, Minnesota state officials declined to accept abstinence funding, which at one time was bringing in more than $2 million from the federal government to Minnesota.

The bill passed over the weekend also put an end to a ban on the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs. That ban was put into place in 1988.

“After 20 years of work, this historic vote finally signals that the United States now fully accepts the evidence of eight federal studies that syringe exchange reduces the incidence of HIV/AIDS and does not increase substance abuse,” Rebecca Haag, executive director of AIDS Action, a national advocacy group, said in a statement. “AIDS Action calls on the President to sign and implement this legislation in the U.S. and to ensure that the State Department allows funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to go to syringe exchange in countries that need it. Tens of thousands of infections worldwide could be prevented by ensuring that people who inject drugs use only clean syringes.”

Minnesota has had needle exchange programs for more than a decade, and advocates told the Minnesota Independent this summer that the restriction on funding is a detriment to their work.

President Obama is expected to sign the legislation.