Bush seeks funds for abstinence education
Updated: 2004-11-26 22:10
President Bush's re-election insures that more federal money will flow to
abstinence education that precludes discussion of birth control, even as the
administration awaits evidence that the approach gets kids to refrain from
last weekend included more than $131 million for abstinence programs in a $388
billion spending bill, an increase of $30 million but about $100 million less
than Bush requested. Meanwhile, a national evaluation of abstinence programs has
been delayed, with a final report not expected until 2006.
Ten state evaluations, compiled by a group that opposes abstinence-only
education, showed little change in teens' behavior since the start of abstinence
programs in 1997.
The president has been a strong proponent of school-based sexual education
that focuses on abstinence, but does not include instruction on safe sex.
"We don't need a study, if I remember my biology correctly, to show us
that those people who are sexually abstinent have a zero chance of becoming
pregnant or getting someone pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted
disease," said Wade Horn, the assistant secretary of Health and Human Services
in charge of federal abstinence funding.
Those who say schools also should be teaching youths how to use
contraceptives say Horn's argument ignores reality. Surveys indicate that
roughly 50 percent of teens say they have sex before they leave high school.
While the nation's teenage pregnancy rate is declining, young people 15 to 24
account for about half the new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the
United States each year.
Teaching only about abstinence means students will be less able to
prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, say supporters of
comprehensive sexual education.
"The only 100 percent way to avoid a car collision is not to drive, but
the federal government sure does a lot of advocacy for safety belts," said James
Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a group that promotes education about
birth control and condom use.
The push for abstinence is one of several Bush policies popular with
religious conservatives. Also topping the agenda: the faith-based initiative,
which aims to open more government programs to religious groups. That push will
continue into a second term, said Jim Towey, who directs the White House Office
of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
"This is a culture change in the way the government provides social
services," he said in an interview. "It's a change to recognize if we really
want to help our poor, we want to give them some choice of programs and
The argument about sexual education has raged for years, between those
who say teaching about sex promotes promiscuity and those who say teens will
make better choices if they are fully informed.
The "abstinence-only" initiative was part of the 1996 welfare law.
Because programs are so young, there has been little conclusive research about
their effectiveness. Independent researchers said in 2002 there is no reliable
evidence whether these programs are effective in reducing teen sex, pregnancy or
the transmission of disease.
The same team has been updating its findings for the Department of Health
and Humans Services. A second report was supposed to be released earlier this
year, but has been pushed back, said HHS spokesman Bill Pierce. The final
installation is expected in 2006.
Advocates for Youth recently compiled state evaluations that found little
change in teens' behavior since the start of the abstinence programs. The states
evaluated are: Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska,
Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.
Leslee Unruh, president of National Abstinence Clearinghouse in Sioux
Falls, S.D., said those state programs are not true abstinence programs because
they talk about delaying sexual activity, but not specifically waiting until
Wagoner said backers of abstinence-only education are now distancing
themselves from programs that don't work. He noted that the state programs all
qualified for and received money from the federal pot of abstinence education
Horn and Unruh acknowledged a paucity of data. "So many of our programs
are in their infancy. The jury is still out," Unruh said.
Horn said, "The research is not as adequate as it needs to be."
Still, he is not willing to wait for more evaluations, calling abstinence
education "something that parents and children want."