- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

A Bush administration proposal to double funding for abstinence education to $270 million a year has angered those who believe teaching teens to save sex for

marriage is a waste of money.

However, it is sparking hope among abstinence proponents who think the money can be used to build a national infrastructure to rival Planned Parenthood.

“Did you hear the cheers the night of the State of the Union? All over the country from all the abstinence educators’ living rooms? We’re pretty excited about that,” said abstinence leader Leslee Unruh, referring to President Bush’s Jan. 20 speech when he announced he was going to double the $135 million in abstinence funds.

“This is a president who’s finally putting his money where his mouth is. He kept his promise to us when he talked with family people before the election,” said abstinence-education pioneer LeAnna Benn, director of Teen-Aid Inc., in Spokane, Wash.

Now what is needed, said Mrs. Benn, is for abstinence-friendly government officials to structure grant programs so that good abstinence programs can be sustained and an abstinence network can be built to match the powerful family planning network.

“Planned Parenthood did not get there by having little [family planning] startups get money for three years and then die,” said Mrs. Benn. “Planned Parenthood got there by having an infrastructure that was original and built over the long term —not up and down and ‘Well, we don’t know if our grants are coming.’”

The new abstinence funds also will offer more opportunities to teach about the abstinent “lifestyle,” said proponents such as Dr. Hal Wallis of Texas.

“Abstinence is more than just about [sexually transmitted diseases] and pregnancy, it’s about caring for your friends,” said Dr. Wallis. “When teenagers get involved with an abstinence frame of mind, they’re actually not only helping themselves, but they’re helping each other.”

Meanwhile, supporters of comprehensive sex education — an approach that favors explicit instruction on sexuality and contraceptive methods — were appalled by the president’s proposal to double federal funds for promoting abstinence.

Mr. Bush “has once again turned a blind eye to the health needs of our young people and has allowed ideology and politics to triumph over science,” said Tamara Kreinin, president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS).

“What Congress has to realize is that by denying youth critical information about contraception and prevention in the era of AIDS, they are placing the health and lives of young people in jeopardy,” said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth.

Some members of Congress are also unenthusiastic about the president’s proposal.

“This is money — hundreds of millions of dollars — that we could better spend on children and people who need the help,” Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat, told Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson at a recent hearing on the Bush budget proposal.

SIECUS and Advocates for Youth are backers of a “No New Money” campaign for abstinence. The groups cited a study showing that a five-year, federally funded abstinence program, Minnesota Education Now and Babies Later, led to both increased sexual activity and increased expectations for sexual activity among students who had been taught an abstinence-only curriculum.

The Minnesota study shows that abstinence programs can “negatively impact” young people’s sexual decisions, said Miss Kreinin.

The $5 million Minnesota program is a costly reminder that these programs are unproven, said Mr. Wagoner.

Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for children and families in the Health and Human Services Department, said the Minnesota statistics were presented in a misleading way.

The Minnesota study is based on 413 students and asks students if “at any time in your life have you had sexual intercourse?” The number who answered ‘yes’ rose from 14 in 2001 to 21 in 2002 — an increase of seven students, Mr. Horn said in a letter to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“And because the study did not include a control group of children who were not taught about abstinence, there is no way of knowing whether this number would have been larger absent the abstinence-education program,” he wrote.

Under Mr. Bush’s proposal, a major program called the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE), would be moved to Mr. Horn’s agency in HHS. The CBAE program would receive $186 million a year, up from around $70 million. The office of the HHS secretary would also receive $10 million in abstinence funds.

Another HHS program — the nation’s first abstinence program, the Title XX Adolescent Family Life Act — would see its funding doubled to $26 million.

The $50 million-a-year Title V abstinence-grant program in the welfare-reform law would stay the same.

In January, the Heritage Foundation released a study showing that in fiscal year 2002, federal and state spending on contraception was $2.23 billion compared with $144.1 million spent to encourage abstinence.

This meant that “government spent $12 to promote contraception for every dollar spent to encourage abstinence,” said Heritage researchers Robert Rector, Melissa Pardue and Shannan Martin.

Critics of abstinence-only education, such as NARAL Pro-Choice America, say there is no federal program for the kind of sex education that most parents want, which is comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and contraception. “Our nation’s youth deserve more than censorship, shame and fear,” NARAL said.

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