- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2000

Government family planning policy in the United States is a lot like government economic planning policy was in the Soviet Union: a massive failure. But whereas the bankrupt Soviet Union collapsed, President Clinton wants to throw more money $2.5 billion over next decade to prop up America's morally bankrupt family planning programs.

Give the old U.S.S.R. some credit. Kremlin officials at least thought they knew what a good economy should look like, even if it lied about the reality. By contrast, in the United States neither family planners nor the president seem to have any idea of what a family should look like because no matter how high the number of out-of-wedlock births, they keep labeling their "family planning" programs a success.

But a "family" with no married father is not a success. It is more like a recipe for social breakdown, according to a growing body of social science research. Children from broken homes are far more likely than children from stable, two-parent families to live in poverty, have health problems, and become victims of abuse and neglect. They also have higher dropout rates, initiate sexual activity at an earlier age, commit more crimes, and have higher rates of drug and alcohol addiction.

But just as the old Soviet government was capable of building factories and thinking it was building a working economy, the U.S. government is quite capable of giving out condoms and thinking it is building families.

The consequences of both failures are massive: There, a superpower collapsed. Here, the family is collapsing, especially among our poor the main targets of family planning programs. Census data and other surveys routinely show that among our poor, marriage has virtually disappeared. Almost all births to mothers in the lowest-income group are out of wedlock, and 75 percent of children in the bottom quintile of earnings live in single-parent families. If this is good family planning, bankruptcy is good economic policy.

Interestingly, most researchers in this field favor family planning programs. Yet these same researchers have yet to find evidence that such programs reduce out-of-wedlock births.

The same is true of sex education programs in schools. Among women in their late 20s and early 30s, many of whom were exposed to modern sex education programs, the number of out-of-wedlock births is rising. More children are born out of wedlock to women in their 30s than to those under 18, and almost 70 percent of all out-of-wedlock births are to women in their 20s and 30s the age group that accounts for 88 percent of all second out-of-wedlock births.

Even the left-leaning National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, in a comprehensive study of this topic, couldn't find one study showing that sex education had any effect on reducing pregnancies. The group softened the bad news by calling the report "No Easy Answers." Closer to the mark would have been "No Answers Yet," given the campaign's optimism.

Where government family planning is concerned, nothing not spending, trend data, academic literature, nor evaluation studies shows any impact on reducing out-of-wedlock births, no matter who reviews the literature or who does the studies, be it the federal government or the private sector. The supporters of family planning don't like to hear that. Neither do they like to hear about the two things that do work in reducing out-of-wedlock births: stable marriages and virginity among those not yet married.

The good news is that American teen-agers are showing renewed interest in virginity and abstinence. Amy Paulsen of Teen People magazine once said that of all the articles she ever ran, the one that got the biggest response was "Can You Spot The Virgin?"

Teen behavior is changing too. Recent federal data show virginity is up among teen-agers, abortions are down, and so too are out-of-wedlock births. Such changes cannot be attributed to "value free" sex education, which teaches that sex outside of marriage is OK so long as it is "protected" and consensual. We know that failed. But the good news does not hold for older age groups: They continue to make the situation worse.

Their younger peers may join them if Congress allocates still more money to continue today's family planning programs. How long before the family in America encounters the same fate as the Soviet Union?

Patrick F. Fagan is the William H.G. FitzGerald fellow in family and cultural issues at the Heritage Foundation.

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