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New York Times Examines Abstinence-Only Sex Education Program

Armen Hareyan's picture

Abstinence-Only Sex Education Program

About 700 abstinence-based sex education programs nationwide are"fighting serious threats to their future," but "[l]ost in thepolitical rancor" over funding for the programs is the fact that U.S.teens are abstaining more and increasingly using contraception whenthey do have sex, the New York Times reports. According to the Times,federal data show that because of a combination of "less sex and morecontraception," teen pregnancy and birth rates have decreased since1991, years before "abstinence education became the multi-milliondollar enterprise it is today."

Opponents of abstinence education "received high-caliber ammunition" in April when a report, conducted by Mathematica Policy Researchand commissioned by Congress, found that abstinence-only programs arenot effective in preventing or delaying teens from having sexualintercourse, the Times reports. However, Robert Rector -- a fellow at the Heritage Foundation,who wrote a bill defining abstinence education that was attached to1996 welfare overhaul legislation -- said that viewing abstinenceeducation primarily as a public health issue distracts from theprograms' focus on marriage. "Once you understand that that's theprincipal issue, ... you understand that handing out condoms to a17-year-old is utterly irrelevant," Rector said.

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John Jemmott of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communicationsaid that some of his colleagues' assertion that abstinence educationhas failed is "unfair," adding that it also is unfair to say that sexeducation courses that discuss condoms encourage sex.

Funding Questions

According to the Times, whether the programs will continue to receive federal funding is "in question" (Beil, New York Times, 7/18). The House Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee last month passed a spending bill that includes increased funding for HHS' Community-Based Abstinence Education Program.CBAE, which gives grants to groups that teach abstinence but not how touse contraception, was allocated $141 million for fiscal year 2008under the measure (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 6/8).

Inaddition, the House and Senate recently voted to extend until Sept. 30the federal Title V abstinence education program, which distributesfunds based on a formula favoring states with more low-income children.To receive Title V funds, states must adhere to certain requirements,including barring teachers from discussing contraception and requiringthem to say that sex within marriage is "the expected standard ofsexual activity." Many state governors have said the grants place toomany restrictions on the curricula. California, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have rejected Title V funds.

PresidentBush has asked Congress to appropriate $191 million for the program forFY 2008, an increase of $28 million from FY 2007 funding levels.Congressional Democratic leaders in May said they will not reauthorizeTitle V (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 7/16).

In addition, Colorado, Iowa and Washingtonstate earlier this year approved legislation that require sex educationprograms based on "research" or "science," which is "often interpretedas code for programs that include discussions on safer sex," the Times reports.Eric Love, director of the East Texas Abstinence program, said the"message" of abstinence programs "will go on, whether the governmentdecides to fund it or not" (New York Times, 7/18).

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Reprinted with permission fromkaisernetwork.org.You can view the entire KaiserDaily Women's Health Policy Report, search thearchives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report is published forkaisernetwork.org,a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.