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Congress mulls continuation of abstinence-only education funding

WASHINGTON (BP)–Experts sparred over sexual education April 23, arguing whether the U.S. government should continue funding abstinence-only sex education programs or whether it should encourage programs that push abstinence while also educating young people on the availability and use of contraceptives, CNSNews.com reported.

At issue is $50 million dollars, which was appropriated for sex-ed programs under Title V of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. At the time, the legislation guaranteed $50 million each year for five years to go toward abstinence-only education, and Congress must now decide whether the programs are worth keeping.

David Kaplan, head of pediatric medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, asked members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health April 23 to “be realistic and responsible when it comes to sex education and to provide young people with all the information they need to protect their health and their lives in the era of AIDS.”

“Do not make this an either/or issue — because it is not,” Kaplan said. “Young people need information about abstinence and contraception.”

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However, Joe McIlhaney, president of The Medical Institute for Sexual Health, said programs that teach both abstinence and contraception have been tried in the past and do not work.

“Many have suggested that so-called ‘abstinence plus’ — dual-message programs discussing abstinence while also teaching all about contraception — is the appropriate answer to the twin epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases and out-of-wedlock pregnancies,” McIlhaney said. “For many years, it is just such programs that have been the predominant approach of sexuality education.

“And what did we see during these years? A genuine epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases is devastating our young people,” McIlhaney said. Such programs do nothing to lower teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates, he said, but, in fact, they may be encouraging teenagers to have sex.

“Proponents of dual message programs face the same problems today as they have for many years — an inability to document tangible success in protecting adolescent health,” McIlhaney said.

“And to whatever extent these programs give young people the impression that sex is really not a big concern, as long as you ‘protect yourself,’ such programs may even contribute to the problem,” he said.

Rep. Sherrod Brown, D.-Ohio, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said that while most parents and lawmakers would like to encourage only abstinence, the fact remains that more than half of high school students are sexually active.

“The key word is ‘only,'” Sherrod said. “I doubt there is any parent or policy-maker who opposes featuring abstinence as a critically important component of sex education.

“To protect our kids and respect their parents’ wishes, states should be able to use this funding to promote abstinence in the context of real-world choices and implications,” he said.

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Leslie Unruh, president and founder of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, said that among the most important lessons to come out of abstinence education is that such programs “focus on personal character and sexual integrity until marriage.”

She added that by going with comprehensive programs, teenagers who are not sexually active are alienated.

“The comprehensive sex-ed alienates virgins,” Unruh said. “It makes virgins feel like they should be having sex.

“Those are the kids they’re leaving out — the wholesome, healthy kids,” she said.

There is no word yet on when the committee will make its decision on whether to continue to appropriate funds to abstinence-only programs.
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Pierce is a staff writer with www.CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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