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Democrats persist in opposing abstinence

WASHINGTON (BP)–House Democrats say they will let Title V abstinence education funding expire in June because they see no evidence the program actually works, but a number of conservatives continue to cite the positive effects of abstinence education among the nation’s youth.

Christine Kim, a policy analyst with The Heritage Foundation, told Baptist Press abstinence critics are passively trying to abolish abstinence education by not renewing the Title V funding.

“They’ve been angling to get rid of abstinence education and any support for youth who really want to choose that as a lifestyle, something that they want to do to have a successful future, to do well in school, to excel and to avoid all the risk behavior and certain physical, emotional and psychological problems that may be associated with early sexual activity — kids who say, ‘I choose to be abstinent,'” Kim said. “Frankly, I think the other side just doesn’t want to support that type of message and value to our young folks.”

Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, for example, said, “Abstinence-only seems to be a colossal failure,” according to the Associated Press May 16.

Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, was counseled by Rep. Diana DeGette, D.-Colo., who touted a study by Mathematica Policy Research released in April that concluded abstinence education did not delay teenage sexual activity.

“With all we know about how to prevent teen pregnancy and reduce sexually transmitted diseases, it is high time to redirect the millions of federal dollars that we squander every year on abstinence-only education to programs that actually work,” DeGette said, according to AP.

Other studies, though, show something very different. An April 2005 study examined Best Friends, which began in 1987 and operates in more than 100 schools across the nation, promoting abstinence as part of a campaign against high-risk behavior among teenage girls. The study, published in the journal Adolescent & Family Health, found that students who participated in Best Friends — some coming from the roughest neighborhoods — were significantly less likely than their peers to engage in any of the high-risk behaviors mentioned.

When compared to their peers who did not participate, girls who participated in Best Friends were six and a half times more likely to remain sexually abstinent, nearly two times more likely to abstain from drinking alcohol, eight times more likely to abstain from drug use, and more than two times more likely to refrain from smoking.

“Congress should take note. It’s time to take the sexual revolution head on and to redress the terrific damage it continues to do to boys and girls,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, wrote on the organization’s website May 17. “It’s time to give today’s wise and effective abstinence programs more funding, not less.”

Title V, established under the 1996 welfare overhaul, is the second-largest of the federal government’s three abstinence education funding programs, with participating states matching the grants with $3 for every $4 they receive. Students are taught that abstinence is the expected standard for their age group and that it is the only sure way to avoid unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and other harmful effects.

To put the Title V funding in perspective, federal and state governments already spend $12 on comprehensive sex education programs for every dollar spent on abstinence-only promotion.

Democrats want to quietly let Title V phase out in favor of funding groups like Planned Parenthood that teach comprehensive programs that are heavy on contraception promotion and hardly mention abstinence.

“The Speaker supports funding for both abstinence and comprehensive sexuality education,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif. “We must get at the root of the problem by reducing unintended pregnancies through sex education and access to contraception.”

Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute with Concerned Women for America, agrees with what many conservatives have been saying since the Mathematica study was released: It was based on flawed methodology.

The left, she said, seems to float well-timed studies criticizing abstinence education when appropriations hearings are on the horizon. A vast media campaign included stories explaining how abstinence programs have had “zero effect.”

“Common sense tells you that you’re not likely to find something that you’re determined not to see,” Crouse wrote in a column May 1. “One study of a D.C.-area program found that girls in the abstinence program were seven times less likely to engage in sexual activity than those who were not in the program. Common sense also says that something has been at work to bring down the rates of sexual activity by teens over the last 15 years.”

Melissa Pardue, also of The Heritage Foundation, warned against support of so-called abstinence-plus programs.

“Analysis of ‘comprehensive’ sex-ed programs reveals that these curricula contain little if any meaningful abstinence message,” Pardue wrote in 2005 in a memo on the effectiveness of abstinence education programs. “On average, these curricula devote about 4 percent of their content to abstinence. Out of 942 total pages of curriculum text reviewed from nine different ‘comprehensive’ sex ed curricula, not a single sentence was found urging teens to abstain from sexual activity through high school.”

Christine Kim said students should be taught about the negative consequences of early sexual activity, including consequences that can last into adulthood.

“We want to raise the bar for them, hoping that they would excel in life,” Kim said. “One of the few places I think teens get the encouragement to do that is abstinence education. I don’t think young people get that message very often, certainly not in the popular culture. It’s much more of a ‘Do what you want, have your way’ type of message. So I think it’s critically important to have a place where teens can hear the abstinence message and have the support they need.”

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  • Erin Roach