Everything is bigger in Texas — except the budget for programs designed to cut down the state's hugely disproportionate HIV infection rate. That's shrinking.
The Associated Press reports that the Republican-backed measure would cut about $3 million from the state's programs to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Instead, that cash would be transferred into abstinence-only sex education, a method that's been repeatedly proven not to work.
The measure still has to pass the state Senate, but GOP legislators in the House passed the measure Tuesday 97-47 "after a contentious debate with Democrats that veered into the unusually personal," the Associated Press reports. The discussion eventually culminated in Republican state Rep. Stuart Spitzer telling his colleagues that he had remained abstinent and "What's good for me is good for a lot of people," according to the Associated Press.
Uh, sorry, that's probably not good enough for teens. Or anyone, really. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that abstinence-only sex education programs have almost no impact on young peoples' decision to have sex.
One 2007 study of four abstinence-only programs funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that there was "no impact on rates of sexual abstinence," and concluded "the average age at first sexual intercourse and the number of sexual partners were almost identical for [abstinence-only] and control youth."
The only major difference is that abstinence-only programs don't teach teens how to effectively use birth control or prophylactics, meaning they have a higher likelihood of an STD infection or transmission compared to those in comprehensive programs.
Telling teens they better not have sex "or else" doesn't work. Texas legislators might as well flush that $3 million down the toilet while lecturing the state's youth about Sodom and Gomorrah.
Meanwhile, the Texas Observer reports that the Lone Star State is ranked third in the U.S. for HIV infection rates. In the greater Austin area alone, the HIV-positive population rose by 40% between the years 2006 and 2014, which Wright House Wellness Center executive director Leah Graham attributed to poor public understanding of the risks of HIV among youth.
"Their attitude is, 'I'm going to do what I'm going to do, and I don't care what people think," Graham told Austin Monthly. These are the same people that the HIV education programs are intended to reach.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, echoed the concerns, telling Mic via email:
Once again, lawmakers in Texas are putting politics ahead of the health and well-being of women and families in the state. It's outrageous that, in a state that has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates and one of the highest rates for HIV diagnoses in the nation, politicians are making it harder for Texans to access vital health care and health education. Make no mistake — the politicians targeting funds for HIV and STD prevention are the same politicians who passed one of the most extreme abortion restrictions in the nation.
Mic's Matt Essert previously reported that states like Texas that emphasize abstinence-only programs additionally have much higher teen birthrates, while kids that pass through such programs are less likely to know about condoms, birth control or the risks of unprotected sex. Texas has a teen birth rate of 46.9 per 1,000, dramatically higher than the national average of 31.3.
As for the state's LGBT youth, Texas Republicans don't want them to get married anyhow, so it's probably fair to say they don't really care what happens to them.
Why you should care: Let's call it like it is. By pulling funding from a desperately needed HIV prevention program to funnel money into a worthless project favored by social conservatives, the Texas legislature is essentially announcing it is more interested in pushing right-wing values on others than protecting at-risk kids and others against HIV and other STIs.
It sounds kind of despicable, doesn't it?