Followers of the Texas Legislature know that it has become such an increasingly extreme place that you often can’t tell if stories about its antics are parodies or not. But the Legislature’s actions this week were no April Fools’ Joke.
On Tuesday, the Texas House voted to defund HIV prevention programs and instead give that money to abstinence education.
Texas is home to the third-highest HIV infection rate in the country, with nearly 5,000 people infected in 2013. Yet, Rep. Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman), who authored the plan to divert $3 million from HIV prevention to abstinence education, said that his main “goal is for everybody to be abstinent until they’re married.”
This is the second case of “Stuart Spitzer should know better” to arise in the past two weeks. Spitzer, a licensed surgeon, previously introduced a bill that would forbid doctors from discussing gun safety with their patients. One would think that someone with medical training would know better than to push legislation that actively harms the health of large numbers of Texans, but apparently Stuart Spitzer only has enough room for one ideology in his brain, and Tea Party won out over common sense.
Democrats made it a point to call out Spitzer’s medical training during the tense debate over the bill at the Capitol on Tuesday as the following exchange between Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) and Spitzer indicates:
- You feel as a medical doctor that the position you are taking, not just from a fiscal standpoint, is prudent for the medical community?” Nevarez asked.
“I do,” Spitzer responded.
Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) brought up Texas’ high HIV incidence rate, asking, “Is it not significant that Texas has the third-highest number of HIV cases in the country?…Does it bother you to know there are people walking around with HIV, undiagnosed?” But Spitzer evidently is more bothered by the fact that people are having sex before marriage than that people are getting infected with HIV.
Democrats pushed Spitzer at several points during debate, most notably Reps. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), and Harold Dutton (D-Houston). Collier called out the absurdity of Spitzer’s claim that people can’t be infected with STDs without having sex–he previously acknowledged that “You can, but it’s awful hard through your clothes.” (Remember, Spitzer is a trained medical professional.) Collier responded, “If you still think you can’t get an STD without having sex, then maybe we need to educate you.”
Harold Dutton’s line of questioning was perhaps the most memorable:
- “Rep. Harold Dutton, even asked Spitzer if he himself had personal experience with abstinence, tipping off an awkward public debate about Spitzer’s sex life.
‘I’ve had sex with one woman, and that’s my wife,’ said Spitzer, who stated that he was a virgin at age 29 when he got married, and that his decision not to have premarital sex enabled him to become a surgeon and state representative.
Dutton then asked if Spitzer had tried to have sex with anyone else before he married his wife, implying that Spitzer’s abstinence may not have been due entirely to personal choice and sending the Texas House chamber into an uproar.
Spitzer’s budget amendment passed the House on almost entirely partisan lines, by a vote of 97-47, meaning that a state with the fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate and the highest repeat teen pregnancy rate will soon have even less sex education than it already does.
We’ve previously covered how comprehensive sex ed that covers both contraception and abstinence has proven successful at reducing teen pregnancies and STD infection rates. This is especially true for low-income and minority teenagers who may lack the resources to seek out medically-accurate information about sex from outside sources. But if Stuart Spitzer has his way, these teens will be more uninformed than ever before. The question is, if abstinence-only education leads to an increase in HIV incidence and teen pregnancies, will Spitzer foot the bill? If he’s not prepared to do that, he should let Texas stick to the kind of sex education that has been proven to work.