Texas measure cuts HIV funds, boost abstinence education

By Diana Zoga

AUSTIN, Texas - Texas would cut $3 million in state funds for programs to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and put that money toward abstinence education under a Republican-sponsored measure advanced by the state House.

The GOP-controlled House approved the budget amendment 97-47 on Tuesday after a contentious debate with Democrats that veered into the unusually personal.

GOP state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, a doctor and the bill's sponsor, at one point defended the amendment by telling the Texas House that he practiced abstinence until marriage. The first-term lawmaker says he hopes schoolchildren follow his example, saying, "What's good for me is good for a lot of people."

The measure is a long way from final approval.

Texas in 2013 had the third-highest number of HIV diagnoses in the country.

"It's not realistic," said Auntjuan Wiley, founder of AIDS Walk South Dallas. "We know that people are not being abstinent. Men, women and children are not being abstinent. They are having sex."

Wiley, who is HIV positive, says the debate on the House floor Tuesday night caught him by surprise.

"…To do a $3 million cut to prevention as if people are not having sex…as if people are no longer getting infected...and we know that's definitely not the case," said Wiley.

Dallas County says the numbers of new HIV cases is going down, but HIV case rates are still disproportionately high in the African-American community.

One of the fastest growing age groups being infected is 13 to 18-year-olds.

"We believe abstinence should be the first conversation, but we have a lot of sexually active teenagers in our community who need to understand how to practice safe sex," said Zach Thompson, Director of the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services.

But lawmakers in favor of boosting abstinence education funding argue that it could help teens reduce their sexual activity and delay when young people start having sex.

Still, others argue that cutting HIV and STD prevention funding isn't the cure for infection rates.

"While we would support abstinence only...as a concept and we certainly understand that from a moral and religious background, we also follow the science...and also know the reality that if you cut funding and prevention, you will see new cases of HIV and STDs and you'll have to contend with that additional treatment," said Dr. John Carlo with AIDS Arms.

Spitzer released a statement Wednesday saying the following:

"Wednesday, Dr. Stuart Spitzer responded to the multitudes of misleading attacks being levied by biased media sources and left-leaning blogs across the nation.

Tuesday evening Dr. Spitzer set off a media storm when he successfully led an effort to reform the Texas Budget by reducing the HIV/STD Awareness Education fund by 1%. Dr. Spitzer's amendment shifted $1,500,000 (less than 1%) of the program's $191.4 million budget to abstinence education, ($5million budget) which increased the abstinence education budget by 28%.

"I strongly believe that the funds were disproportionate in the way they were allotted.  A very small shift could go a very long way in helping to educate Texans on how to protect themselves from HIV and other STD's that are harming our state." commented Spitzer.

Spitzer concluded, "If you read the media reports it sounds like I defunded HIV/STD programs, when all I did was shift less than 1% of their budgets toward a program that will help curb the same diseases. It amazes me how visceral the attacks on my family and I have been as a result of this effort, and how misinformed people are as to the effects of our amendment. I'm incredibly pleased that the majority of my colleagues and constituents supported me in the effort to address HIV and STDs in our state."

Stuart is an Athens native, who lives with his wife Shari, and two children, Lilly and Luke.  They are active in Kaufman's First Baptist Church, where Dr. Spitzer is a deacon, Sunday school teacher, and works in the children's ministry.  He regularly mentors in public schools and coaches youth sports. As a graduate of Trinity Valley Community College, Baylor University, and UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Dr. Spitzer currently provides care at Presbyterian Hospital of Kaufman."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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