- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Abstinence-education supporters are cheering the recent move of the nation’s two largest abstinence-grant programs to a new — and friendlier — agency within the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), which is led by child psychologist Wade Horn, recently received oversight of the $50 million Title V and $104 million community-based abstinence-education grant programs.

“Wade Horn’s leadership and commitment to abstinence will be a tremendous benefit to abstinence education,” Bruce Cook, founder of Choosing the Best abstinence program, said of the HHS assistant secretary in charge of ACF.

Mr. Horn “will do a wonderful job of promoting the [abstinence] message with the passion and commitment it deserves,” said Libby Gray, director of the Project Reality abstinence group in Glenview, Ill.

To other observers, moving the abstinence programs from HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) to Mr. Horn’s agency is “ideology trumping science.”

Abstinence funds will become part of the same federal agency that promotes marriage and responsible fatherhood, said Marcela Howell, public-policy director at Advocates for Youth, which supports comprehensive sexuality education.

“We’re concerned about the politics that may go into the oversight of these programs,” she said. Mr. Horn “clearly has an ideology to push. … It’s clearly very political.”

In an interview, Mr. Horn said that HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson moved the abstinence programs so they could be integrated into “the broader positive youth-development perspective that we have been pursuing here at ACF.”

Young people should be encouraged to make good decisions about sex, smoking, drinking, drugs, staying in school and using seat belts, said Mr. Horn, a child psychologist.

Sexual abstinence, he added, “is the only 100 percent effective way” for a teen to avoid becoming a parent or getting a sexually transmitted disease. Therefore, he said, “The goal is to find the most effective strategies to help young people make that choice.”

A majority of teens, including almost two-thirds of girls, told a recent Gallup poll they think young people should abstain from sex until they are married.

The reassignment of the two abstinence programs, which was authorized in the recent spending bill, comes after years of grumbling from abstinence supporters that MCHB officials didn’t want to promote abstinence education as Congress narrowly defined it and sometimes gave grants to groups that also promoted the use of condoms.

Both the 1996 Title V program and the 2000 Special Projects of Regional and National Significance Community-based Abstinence Education grants have an eight-point definition for abstinence education.

Grant recipients are supposed to teach, among other things, that abstinence is “the expected standard” for school-age children and that nonmarital sexual activity “is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.”

Many health experts are skeptical of such statements. For example, at a 1997 MCHB meeting, when implementation of the Title V grants were first discussed, health professionals raised concerns that the eight-point criteria was confusing, inaccurate or overly religious.

“There’s a lot of room to be creative” with the grants, an MCHB official assured them.

Mr. Horn said he assumes that only qualified abstinence programs were funded and that his agency will be diligent in its oversight. If abstinence grant recipients are not meeting the eight-point criteria, Mr. Horn added, “They’ll either have to come into compliance with the statute, or they won’t be able to continue to be a grantee of this program.”

Meanwhile, a recent congressional report has escalated the ongoing debate about whether youth should be taught “only” about an abstinent lifestyle or “comprehensive” sex education that also includes instruction about condoms and birth control.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide