- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The first congressional hearing on the effectiveness of abstinence education convenes today with many glad that the program’s day of reckoning finally has come. A “preponderance of evidence” shows that “abstinence-only-until-marriage programs simply do not work,” said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth (AFY), a group that advocates responsible sexual decision-making for youths. “After spending $1.5 billion on these failed programs over the last 10 years, the time has come to move in a new direction,” Mr. Wagoner said yesterday. In addition to AFY, groups such as the Guttmacher Institute and Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States have complained for years that abstinence education programs are error-ridden, narrow, potentially harmful to adolescents and a waste of taxpayer dollars. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will begin the hearings at 10 a.m. Opponents are likely to pack today’s hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building, but abstinence education supporters are rallying their troops, too. The hearing “is likely to be the first step to eliminate funding for federal abstinence programs,” Robert Rector, senior domestic policies expert at the Heritage Foundation, told a press briefing yesterday at the National Press Club. Heritage released a review of 21 studies of abstinence programs, 16 of which showed positive results, such as the delay or reduction of sexual activity. “While these findings show valuable evidence that abstinence-until-marriage programs work, the best evidence is found in hearing the success stories from the kids living the life of sexual integrity every day,” said Leslee Unruh, president and founder of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse. “If Congress truly cares about the health of America’s youth, it will put ideology aside and recognize the positive momentum abstinence education is making,” said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association. At issue in today’s hearing are three abstinence funding streams — the Title V Abstinence Education grant program, created in the 1996 welfare reform law; the Community-Based Abstinence Education grant program, created in 2000; and the Title XX Adolescent Family Life program, created in 1981. Grantees funded by these programs must follow an eight-point definition of abstinence education (see list below), which includes encouraging youths to abstain from sex until marriage. But the eight-point definition excludes hundreds of sex education programs because abstinence funds cannot be used to demonstrate or advocate birth control or condoms. Many sex educators also balk at the idea of teaching abstinence-until-marriage to youths, as they see it as an unrealistic and insulting to gay youth who cannot marry anywhere except Massachusetts. Scheduled to testify today are: Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican; Rep. Lois Capps, California Democrat; representatives from the Government Accountability Office and Department of Health and Human Services; and public health experts and researchers. According to the federal government, “abstinence education” is defined as an educational or motivational program that:

  • has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological and health gains of abstaining from sexual activity;
  • teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children;
  • teaches that abstinence is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and associated health problems;
  • teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship within marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity;
  • teaches that sexual activity outside of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;
  • teaches that bearing children out of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the childs parents and society;
  • teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increases vulnerability to sexual advances; and
  • teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sex.
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