A Democratic political action committee ripped Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, saying his positions as Florida’s governor preview what he’d be like as commander in chief — particularly when it comes to women’s issues.
Stephanie Schriock, president of the group Emily’s List, said in an essay on Medium that Bush spent his two terms curbing women’s reproductive and health rights. (Emily’s List helps Democratic women candidates who support abortion rights.) Schriock ticked off several actions that ran counter to the group’s stance, including Bush’s support of abstinence-only sex education.
“And let’s not forget that Jeb once held $1 million in family planning grants hostage until the programs receiving the money agreed not to discuss birth control at all,” she wrote.
We wondered what Schriock meant about Bush holding grant money hostage, so we took a closer look at the books.
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We found only a few media mentions of a situation resembling a hostage crisis, and they were the same ones Emily’s List sent to us as proof. The primary source was a March 2001 story in the Tampa Bay Times focused on a budget request from Bush for lawmakers to consider during the legislative session.
The story detailed how Bush wanted $1 million of the state Department of Health’s $5.7 million family planning allocation to create education grants for chastity counseling. This would have mirrored some federally funded programs in the state that told teens to wait until marriage to have sex, without discussing birth control methods. Those programs, many of which were privately run by religious groups, operated under names like Best Friends, Sex Can Wait and Everyone’s Not Doing It.
The request would have marked the first time the state would have funded an abstinence-based counseling program. The idea was criticized by sex education advocates and legislators who said teaching abstinence didn’t work. They also said diverting $1 million would keep many poor women from getting HIV tests, pap smears, birth control counseling and other services at clinics and county health departments.
But except for a couple of mentions in other articles about the proposal, the March 2001 Times article was the only place we found that the request was fully examined. Even Emily’s List couldn’t tell us what happened to Bush’s proposal. They did tell us their aim was to point out Bush had made clear he preferred abstinence-only counseling, and was willing to put conditions on funding to achieve that goal. That doesn’t strike us as Bush literally preventing that money from being used for regular family planning services, however.
Though the Times story says the request was supported by then-health secretary Bob Brooks, it was still just a request. Florida governors routinely submit a proposed budget each year before the session, but the Legislature has the final say on how money is spent. It appears in 2001 lawmakers didn’t follow Bush’s wishes.
The state Department of Health shared appropriations for family planning services going back to 2000 and found nothing specifying funds had to go to abstinence education exclusively.
“It does not appear that there was any proviso language that directed $1 million to be spent on chastity programs from the family planning category,” spokeswoman Mara Burger told us. The 2001 appropriation for family planning was almost $5.8 million, a figure that has since fallen to $4.2 million today.
Florida continues to specify abstinence should be taught as a part of sex ed classes, although school districts are given plenty of leeway. The state is still one of the biggest recipients of federal money for chastity programs. Even anti-Obamacare Republicans in the Legislature agreed in 2012 to take millions set aside for abstinence education in the Affordable Care Act, even while rejecting other aid tied to the law.
Emily’s List said: “Jeb once held $1 million in family planning grants hostage until the programs receiving the money agreed not to discuss birth control at all.”
A handful of news stories say Bush in 2001 asked the Legislature to set aside $1 million for chastity programs out of the state’s almost $5.8 million for family planning. That’s a bit different from threatening existing programs with a gag order. More importantly, there’s no evidence Bush’s proposal went into effect. The health department said no requirements for abstinence programs were passed by lawmakers.
We rate the statement Mostly False.