- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

The Department of Health and Human Services must enforce a federal law that requires abstinence programs to teach “medically accurate” information about condom effectiveness, civil rights and sex education, advocates said in a letter sent to HHS Secretary Michael O. Leavitt yesterday.

An HHS Web site and pamphlet and three federally funded abstinence programs “all violate a federal law requiring certain educational materials to contain medically accurate information about condom effectiveness,” said the letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States and Advocates for Youth (AFY).

If HHS doesn’t remedy the violations in 30 days, “the ACLU intends to bring legal action,” said the letter, signed by Julie Sternberg and Ava Barbour of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

HHS spokeswoman Christina Pearson said the agency couldn’t comment on the specifics of the letter.

However, she said, “our abstinence programs have been, and will continue to be, medically accurate, teaching young people about the healthier choices they can make in life.”

HHS Administration for Children and Families (ACF) actively manages its abstinence programs — it has “instituted monitoring, data collection, technical assistance and checked grantees for medical accuracy,” she said.

“If a curriculum is found to be inaccurate or out of date, ACF takes the appropriate steps to correct it so youth and young adults continue to receive the highest quality abstinence education programs in their communities,” the HHS spokeswoman added.

“Abstinence education, as a field and a profession, is committed to being accurate in all of our assertions, and we’re continually looking for the most recent studies and research and data in order to keep on top of that,” said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association.

“We believe that full, accurate information … also includes giving complete information on the limited effectiveness of condoms in preventing” sexually transmitted diseases, said Mrs. Huber. “We think it’s disingenuous and harmful to youth” to suggest that by using a condom “they erase all the possible consequences” of spreading disease through sexual activity.

However, the sex education advocates think they have been patient long enough.

HHS has been notified “numerous times” about inaccuracies, especially regarding condoms and HIV/AIDS, and the Government Accountability Office last fall found that HHS was not conducting enough oversight of abstinence programs, said Deb Hauser, AFY executive vice president. HHS “is a public health organization and needs to be promoting the public’s health. These programs are full of inaccuracies, and it’s dangerous,” she said.

The targeted materials are “Why kNOw,” published by an organization in Chattanooga, Tenn.; “Me, My World, My Future” and “Sexuality, Commitment & Family,” published by Teen-Aid Inc., in Spokane, Wash; the 4parents.gov Web site and “Parents, Speak Up!” pamphlet.

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