WASHINGTON — Community-based abstinence programs are once again under attack, as members of Congress are weighing whether to continue supporting existing programs with federal funds.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House oversight committee, held a hearing April 23, questioning the results of the programs.
In his opening statements he said the programs “don’t appear to work, while ignoring proven comprehensive sex education programs that can delay sex, protect teens from disease, and result in fewer teen pregnancies.”
Community-based abstinence education (CBAE) offers grants to faith-based, non-profit and educational groups. In spite of heightened efforts lobbying against it, CBAE was funded at $176 million last year, the same as the prior year.
The hearing featured experts on abstinence education, although a greater proportion of witnesses presented research that suggested that the programs were failing.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Center, was outraged by the partisan nature of the hearing, noting that Waxman invited seven witnesses to testify against abstinence education, but only two of them were in favor of the programs.
“Chairman Waxman’s well-known support for radical causes, such as abortion on demand and for so-called ‘comprehensive’ sex education, should not detract from the true benefits of abstinence education programs,” he stated.
Perkins referenced a Heritage Foundation paper released prior to the hearing demonstrating the success of CBAE programs. According the paper, 16 of the 21 studies on community-based abstinence education programs reported statistically significant positive results, such as delayed sexual initiation and reduced levels of early sexual activity.
Critics of abstinence-only education insist that funding should be reserved for “comprehensive” programs that educate teens about contraceptives.
Proponents of abstinence education programs say that the programs are important for children and many parents support them. A recent Zogby poll shows that parents prefer abstinence education over comprehensive sex education by a 2-to-1 margin.
“I don’t think it’s a partisan issue,” said John Margand, an abstinence educator in New York, “We’re talking about some basic common sense health issues here.”
Margand, who runs Bronx, N.Y.-based Project Reach, said that a number of parents support abstinence education programs as do a number of congressmen.
‘What’s Best for Youth’
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., and Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., recently drafted a letter asking the House Appropriations Committee to continue funding the program.
“Abstinence education is an important primary health message that is taught to some 2.5 million youth across the country,” said the letter, signed by 26 House members, “Only by preserving intact funding for this approach, can we be sure that communities have a true choice in the nature of sex education provided to teens.”
“There is no doubt that we can help our young people by making sure they have the opportunity to receive education that provides a risk-eliminating advantage gained by abstaining from sexual activity,” said McIntyre in a recent interview.
“In a country with the highest teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates in the industrialized world, we have a responsibility to ensure that our youth have access to medically accurate, comprehensive sex education with a history of success,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., who signed a letter of opposition.
New York abstinence educator Margand said that abstinence education is a vital message to today’s youth. He said his program, which is used in public schools, emphasizes principles of self restraint and self-esteem, and links the decision to abstain from sexual activity to future goals and long-term commitments.
“There is no way that abstaining from the sex act can be harmful to teens,” he said, “It provides 100% protection from biological effects of teen sex, and protects our children from negative emotional consequences.
Charlie Spiering is based in