Yakima Herald-Republic, Andy Sawyer/AP

New Administration Could Mean Cuts for Abstinence-Only Education

January 21, 2009 07:33 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Opponents of abstinence-only education are expected to make a strong effort to end federal funding for the controversial sex education program.

Are Abstinence-Only Programs on Their Way Out?

It is uncertain how soon their goals could be realized, as conservatives are expected to push Congress and new President Barack Obama to retain the programs, which currently receive $176 million in federal funds annually, the Associated Press reported.

Tommy Vietor, an Obama spokesman, refused to say how Obama would address the matter in his budget plan. But Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said: "Talking with Obama, he totally understands the need for young people to have comprehensive sex education—they need information that protects their health," Richards said, according to AP.

Government abstinence programs have been in danger for some time now, after seeing a steady increase in funding during the Bush administration. In 2007, The New York Times reported that about 700 abstinence education programs were already in danger of losing money, and that 11 state health departments had rejected such programs so far that year.

Last year, Congress was reevaluating its funding of abstinence-only programs. The Democrat-majority body, during its first session, had increased funding for the programs. “We are showering funds on abstinence-only programs that don't appear to work, while ignoring proven comprehensive sex education programs that can delay sex, protect teens from disease, and result in fewer teen pregnancies,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the committee’s chairman, AP reports.

But the Times commented that despite the controversy, teens across the nation are both abstaining more and are more likely to use contraception when they do engage in sexual activity.

Opinion & Analysis: The abstinence debate

The Heritage Foundation argues that abstinence helps teens avoid risks associated with early sexual activity, including sexually transmitted diseases, emotional harm and having children outside of marriage. “Authentic abstinence programs are therefore crucial to efforts aimed at reducing unwed childbearing and improving youth well-being,” the report said.

Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman cites recent research from Johns Hopkins researcher Janet Rosenbaum, who surveyed 1,000 students and found that most teens who pledge abstinence end up breaking their vows and even forget that they ever made them. In addition, Rosenbaum found that there was no difference in sexual behavior between teens who took the pledges and those who did not, and that those who took the vows were less likely to use birth control. “Teens are not the only masters of denial. But we are finally stepping back from the culture wars. We are, with luck, returning to something that used to be redundant—evidence-based science.”

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