- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

President Bush’s re-election already has resulted in more funds for one of the election’s pivotal “moral values” issues — abstinence education.

Congress last weekend included more than $131 million for abstinence programs in its $388 billion spending bill.

This represents an increase of $30 million for programs that teach middle- and high-school youths that sexual abstinence until marriage is the best choice.

The new funding is far less than the $100 million Mr. Bush requested, but it marks a “record level of funding,” said leaders of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Public debates about the merits of teaching abstinence-until-marriage versus abstinence-plus-contraception are likely to continue: A national evaluation of abstinence-until-marriage programs has been delayed, with a final report not expected until 2006, said a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Bush administration has fueled this debate by steadily increasing federal funds for abstinence education, which has been outmatched for decades by funding for family planning, HIV/AIDS and other sex education that primarily teaches about birth control, condoms and disease prevention.

“We have said that funding for abstinence education … ought to be on at least equal footing with other [sex] education programs,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Nov. 17 at the nomination of White House domestic policy adviser Margaret Spellings as Department of Education secretary.

“The president is an advocate of abstinence-education programs because he wants to focus on what works,” Mr. McClellan said, noting that Mrs. Spellings supports abstinence-based education in schools.

William Smith of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States challenged the idea that abstinence education has been “proven effective.”

“No sound study exists that shows that these programs have any long-term beneficial impact on young people’s sexual behavior,” Mr. Smith said. “The fact the president’s nominee for the nation’s top teacher supports these programs is particularly disturbing.”

When it comes to children’s sexual behavior, the primary message the nation should give is abstinence until marriage, said Wade F. Horn, HHS assistant secretary for children and families.

“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 Mr. Horn.

Meanwhile, opponents of abstinence-only education continue to warn against pouring money into unproven programs. Advocates for Youth (AFY), for instance, recently released a 10-state study saying that after five years and $45.5 million in federal funding, abstinence programs have resulted in “few short-term benefits and no lasting positive impact.”

In Maryland, for instance, the state’s abstinence-education program looked at data from 1998 to 2002 from pilot programs involving 400 students.

In pre- and post-test surveys about abstinence, there was “no significant change” in the percentage of students who said they would stick to a decision not to have sex, according to the AFY report.

The AFY report was “biased” because it included programs that “do not follow the federal definition of abstinence education, and therefore should have never been funded,” said Leslee J. Unruh, president of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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