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March 10, 2010

Column #1,489

Why Is Abstinence Education Funding Ending?

By Mike McManus

     Two sad facts: First, after more than a decade of declining rates, the pregnancy rate among girls aged 15-19 rose 3 percent between 2005 and 2006. Second, the teen abortion rate also rose 1percent.  Amazingly, U.S. teen birth rates are more than three times that of Canada. 

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy estimated that in 2004 alone, teen pregnancies cost U.S. taxpayers $9 billion in health care, foster care, welfare and lost tax revenue.

            So what is the Obama Administration doing about this?  Zeroing out all funding of abstinence-only sex education programs, to fund even more condom programs.

            The New York Times actually applauded this foolish development in an editorial entitled “End to the Abstinence-Only Fantasy.”  It wrote on Dec. 20, 2009:

            “The omnibus government spending bill signed into law last week contains an important victory for public health.  Gone is all spending for highly restrictive abstinence-only sex education programs that deny young people accurate information about contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.  The measure redirects sex-education resources to medically sound program aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy.”

            “Fantasy? Victory for public health?”  The writer of that editorial must have been smoking something that is still illegal in New York.

            Even before the $153 million for abstinence-only funding was eliminated, the condom educators were getting four times as much money reports Valerie Huber, Director of the National Abstinence Educational Association.   

            With what result?  The American College of Pediatricians spoke out recently:  “Almost 40 years of emphasis on `safer sex’ with `values neutral’ sex education, condoms and contraception has clearly failed our young people.”

            By contrast, pediatricians strongly endorse abstinence-until-marriage sex education and recommends its adoption by all school systems in lieu of “comprehensive sex education.”  Why? “This position is based on the `public health principle of primary prevention’ risk avoidance in lieu of risk reduction.”

            The College acknowledged abstinence education has been criticized for not providing critical health information about condom use. “Abstinence education curricula, however, do not discourage the use of condoms; rather that chastity obviates the need for condoms.”

            However, it asserted the “effectiveness of abstinence sex education in delaying the onset of sexual debut has been demonstrated in rigorous scientific studies.”

            For example, a study was published last month in a medical journal by a husband-wife team, Drs. John and Loretta Jemmott, who randomly assigned 662 African-American students in grades six and seven to different groups: an eight hour abstinence-only program stressing the benefits of delaying intercourse, an eight hour safe-sex program stressing condom use; a 12 hour comprehensive intervention covering both abstinence and condom use.

            In a Feb. 8 editorial even the august New York Times conceded, “The only program that successfully delayed the start of sexual activity was the abstinence-only instruction. By the end of two years, only a third of the abstinence-only group had engaged in sexual intercourse compared with almost half (48,5 percent) of the control group.”  And 52 percent of “safer sex” condom kids began having sex. 

            Of course, abstinence supporters rejoiced and urged the Obama Administration to reverse course and restore federal abstinence funding.  Not so fast, snorted the Times. The abstinence-only folk argue that abstinence-until-marriage is the answer, while the Jemmotts only urged kids to abstain until they were “more mature.”

            How effective are the more rigorous programs? The Institute for Research and Evaluation  examined the “Heritage Keepers” program in South Carolina and “Reasons of the Heart” in Virginia which made a case of chastity until marriage. Both “reduced the number of teens who became sexually active by about one-half, 12 months after the program.”

            By contrast, a 20 year review of 32 Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) programs revealed that “No school-based CSE programs were shown to increase the number of teens who used condoms consistently, for more than a 3 month period.”  And none “delayed the onset of teen sexual intercourse for 12 months.”

            Congress passed new $100 million Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants, $75 million of which is to replicate programs “that have been rigorously evaluated and have the strongest evidence of success,” and $25 million for innovative strategies that may not yet be evaluated.

            LeAnna Benn, director of “Teen Aid,” isn’t hopeful. “The Federal Government took our five year contract and zeroed it out in one year. They’ll fund Comprehensive Sex Education, not Abstinence Until Marriage.”

            Perhaps, but Heritage and the Jemmotts should reapply, with their track records.

Why? It’s good politics. A 2004 Zogby Poll reports 90 percent of adults and teens agree teens should be given a strong abstinence message.

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