Most of the federal abstinence funding goes to two programs. Community-Based Abstinence Education now gets $113 million a year; a somewhat older program known as Title V gets $50 million. Community-based funding goes directly to hundreds of nonprofit groups and other local organizations; Title V money is funneled through states. Twelve states, including California, refuse Title V funding because of the requirement to teach only abstinence.
Both programs are holding their own in the Democratic-controlled Congress.
President Bush, in his budget request, asked for a $28-million increase in community-based grants, which Obey has obliged.
And an attempt loosen Title V funding rules faltered in the House, to the disappointment of Waxman and others.
Among other changes, the new rules would have allowed states to use the money for a broader range of sex education programs.
Teen pregnancy rates went down in the 1990s, partly because of contraception use and partly because teens were postponing sex. Dr. John Santelli of Columbia University, an expert on teen sexuality, said most of the progress occurred before federally funded abstinence-only programs came on the scene.
"If a program that teaches about contraception and abstinence works to promote both, and a program that only promotes abstinence doesn't work, that would suggest that if you want to promote abstinence, you should promote comprehensive sex education," said Santelli.
Both sides in the abstinence funding battle say it is far from over.
Jackie Payne, Planned Parenthood's head Washington lobbyist, sees progress in the attempt to change the Title V funding rules, even if it has been sidelined for now. "That is tangible evidence that there is going to be an end" to federal funding for abstinence-only programs, Payne said.
Rector, the policy analyst who helped create abstinence programs, said he believed that Democrats were only waiting for a politically opportune time to deliver the fatal blow.
"I don't think they are going to attempt that until after the 2008 elections," he said. "I don't think that Democrats, before an election, want that particular albatross wrapped around their necks."