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Specter has directed thousands to abstinence programs across state

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter has spread $853,000 to 25 programs across Pennsylvania that teach teens to wait until marriage for sex.

Specter, a Republican, is the only member of Congress making earmarks to abstinence-education programs. It’s a trend he has continued in recent years, and it marks an interesting move for one of the party’s best-known abortion-rights senators.

Specter is a senior member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which writes spending bills. And he is the top Republican on the subcommittee for the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services.

“Why Pennsylvania is getting the lion’s share of abstinence- education funding, and why it’s all over the state, it’s just a very interesting twist,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog organization.

Specter defends the earmarks, saying he supports abstinence education as a way to reduce premarital sex and the abortion rate and a way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Spokeswoman Kate Kelly said Specter is reaching out to a segment of his constituency that deserves programs “most consistent with their values.”

The dollars make a up a miniscule percentage of the $218 million in earmarks Specter sponsored or cosponsored for this year’s budget.

But they point to a key issue for the senator, who favors abortion rights.

On his Web site, Specter says the federal government should not interfere with women’s personal decisions on abortion.

But he also touts his work on family planning and abstinence education.

The funding, ranging from $21,000 to $66,000, went to some obvious destinations: a group called A-Plus for Abstinence, for example, and social organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church, which strongly opposes both abortion and sex before marriage.

But money also went to local governments: the city of Chester and public school districts in Philadelphia and New Brighton.

“This begs the question: If abstinence education is something the federal government should be involved in, it shouldn’t all be to Pennsylvania, and it shouldn’t all be decided by Sen. Specter,” Ellis said.

CDT Washington correspondent Barbara Barrett can be reached at 202-383-0012 or bbarrett@mcclatchydc.com.

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