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Abstinence supporters urged to call reps

WASHINGTON (BP)–Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, is urging supporters of the abstinence message to contact their elected representatives as federal budgets for this year and next are debated in Washington.

The message, she said, can be simple.

“Basically, just say that they support the reestablishment of a stand-alone funding stream for community-based abstinence education. The reason that the stand-alone funding stream is so critical is some might argue that the current structure for funding teen pregnancy prevention would permit abstinence education programs to be funded,” Huber told Baptist Press.

“But the political reality is, first of all, there’s no priority on abstinence education in that funding stream and, secondly, there is no historical precedent that the administration is going to give any real emphasis to abstinence education unless there is a separate program specifically for the risk avoidance abstinence message.”

President Obama and congressional leadership zeroed out funding for abstinence education in the 2010 federal budget, opting instead to create a “teen pregnancy prevention initiative,” which promotes the use of condoms and other contraceptives among the nation’s teenagers. By not restoring abstinence education to the 2011 federal budget, contraceptive-centered sex education remains the priority for the federal government.

Huber said she is hopeful that a new priority on risk avoidance or abstinence education could be reestablished in the 2012 budget and perhaps still in 2011.

“I actually think that our prospects are pretty positive in that regard. There seems to be, particularly in the House, a general support for the skills and the messages that are part of the abstinence message. I think there’s also a recognition that there needs to be an amendment to the current policy on sex education,” Huber said.

That can happen in a couple of ways. Rep. Joe Pitts, R.-Pa., chairs the health subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which is the authorizing committee for this funding.

Pitts is “historically supportive of abstinence education,” Huber said, “and our recent conversations with his office indicate that his support has not abated one bit. We are encouraging and looking forward to him taking leadership in pressing for a reestablishment of priority for abstinence education.

“Obviously, your readers, if they reside in districts where members of the Energy and Commerce Committee serve, then calls right now to those members would be in order,” Huber told Baptist Press.

Also, if readers have members of Congress who serve on the House Committee on Appropriations, they should make their opinions known while the 2012 budget is under consideration.

“Since all of this will initiate in the House, that’s where we’ll start our efforts. That’s not to diminish the importance of the Senate, but it needs to start in the House,” Huber said. “In terms of the 2011 budget … there’s nothing really that can be done on the House side.

“However, this is going to transfer over to the Senate momentarily and the Senate needs to pick this up. The 2011 budget also has no funds at all for abstinence education, and this is an opportunity for the Senate Appropriations Committee, particularly Sen. [Thad] Cochran’s office, who is a Republican leader on that committee, to press to insert a priority on abstinence education. It’s not too late for us to see something happen on the Senate side in relation to 2011.”

A study released Feb. 14 found that 61 percent of teenagers would like to be virgins when they marry, and 63 percent said they would regain their virginity if possible.

The research, conducted by the youth ministry OneHope late last year, showed that 69 percent of teenagers watch MTV on a weekly basis, but 80 percent cite parents as having a lot/some influence over their thoughts and actions, followed by teachers and friends.

Also, 82 percent of respondents said they believe God intended marriage to last a lifetime, and 64 percent said religion is somewhat or very important to them. Thirty-four percent of the teenagers said they spend less than 15 minutes a week talking with their fathers about things that matter.

Huber said the findings are not unlike what she has seen in previous surveys in that most teenagers who are sexually experienced wish they had waited.

“I think those results are reflected in this survey. The second significant survey result related to teen sex is that most teens support abstinence and value remaining abstinent as a priority,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regularly conducts a youth risk behavior survey and finds that in terms of behavior, teens are trending in the direction of abstinent behavior and continue to support this as the healthiest choice.

“Obviously, not as many teens as we’d like, but I think it’s a promising sign,” Huber said.

As she spoke to Baptist Press from Capitol Hill, where she was seeking to renew a priority on abstinence education, Huber emphasized the need for congressional representatives to hear from their constituents.

“It’s important that they register their support now, frequently and until a decision is made simply because there are a lot of policy issues being debated and it’s easy for this issue to get lost in the mix of debate unless readers continue to bring it in front of their members of Congress,” she said.

“Even supportive members of Congress can forget about this if constituents don’t continue to remind them of the importance of this for our nation’s youth.”

The capitol switchboard number is 202-224-3121.
Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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