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What if abstinence legislation expires?

WASHINGTON (BP)–If Congress lets the Title V abstinence education funding legislation expire June 30, one of the major consequences will be a change in the language required by the government in discussing sexual abstinence with U.S. students.

Title V defines abstinence education with a list of criteria labeled A-H, including (A) “Has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity”; (B) “Teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school age children”; etc. (See below for entire list.)

Valerie Huber, executive director of the Washington-based National Abstinence Education Association, told Baptist Press the A-H list of teaching requirements will cease to exist if Title V is not reauthorized.

Though Title V is just one of three federal funding streams for abstinence education in the United States, it sets the tone for the other two.

Section 510 of Title V, known as the State Abstinence Education Program, enables states to provide counseling and adult supervision to promote abstinence from sexual activity with a focus on groups most likely to bear children out-of-wedlock. This year, 43 states are receiving funds through Title V, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The stream with the most funding is CBAE, or Community-Based Abstinence Education, which supports public and private entities — including faith-based organizations — in developing and implementing abstinence education across the nation.

Title XX, or the Adolescent Family Life Demonstration and Research Program, supports the evaluation and development of programs that promote abstinence. In fiscal year 2006-07, 57 abstinence education programs were funded by Title XX across the nation, HHS said. Both CBAE and Title XX must promote abstinence education as defined by Section 510 of Title V — the A-H language.

“A-H really defines what abstinence education is in terms of federal funding, and it is that criteria that says abstinence until marriage is what should be taught with the use of these monies,” Huber said. “And so if we lose Title V, that language dies with Title V. So [with] the other abstinence education funding streams, even if they were continued, it’s going to be really difficult for that discussion.”

Huber said there is still minimal time for lawmakers to change their minds on the abstinence education issue and decide that they want to renew the Title V legislation. Rep. John Dingell, D.-Mich., said recently he expects the Energy and Commerce Committee, of which he is chairman, to let the funding cease.

“I think that what is really, really important right now is that the constituents of every member of Congress contact their representatives and let them know that this is something that is important,” Huber said. “Things appear differently in the Beltway and inside the halls of Congress than they are truly in the heartland of America, and our survey showed very clearly that regardless of whether someone would classify themselves ideologically as a conservative or a liberal, this is the very kind of education that they want for their children.

“Those members of Congress really need to take note of this and reconsider,” she said, referring to a Zogby International poll commissioned by NAEA that found 78 percent of parents think sex education classes in public schools should place more emphasis on promoting abstinence than on condom and other contraceptive use.

In addition to the loss of clear abstinence-promoting language if Title V dies, Huber noted that Title V is the only funding stream that goes directly to each of the states.

“It can have a very broad coverage across the state in terms of abstinence education in the schools,” she said. “Some CBAE is used in local communities as well, but it’s not divided up among each individual state. It goes to organizations who compete for those funds and then use them in their local communities. So it’s possible that some states may not receive that funding at all.”

With Title V on the chopping block, Huber said CBAE and Title XX are not safe either. Those two funding streams are handled by the House Committee on Appropriations.

“We are expecting that discussion to begin any day now. I believe that the appropriations process was going to begin the first part of May, so we’re anticipating that discussion to begin probably immediately after Memorial Day,” Huber said. “But it could begin at any time.”

The message Huber hopes Congress will heed is that abstinence education is effective in delaying the onset of teenage sexual activity, and she pointed to a conference hosted by HHS in Baltimore in March which included 30 positive evaluations of abstinence education programs.

“I think that what the conference certainly shows is that abstinence education as a field takes evaluation very, very seriously and that programs are committed to improving and designing their methods so that they make a real impact and have an effect on students,” Huber said. “Those 30 papers and presentations are an indication that abstinence education is coming of age.”

A list of nine specific abstinence education studies compiled by NAEA and posted on their website confirm that abstinence education has substantially contributed to the decrease in teen pregnancy, reduces the likelihood that participants will initiate sexual activity, reduces the prevalence of casual sex among sexually experienced students and is effective with at-risk students and inner-city students.

“If your readers care about this issue, we would really encourage them to go to our website and see if they have members of Congress that sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and if so that they immediately contact them,” Huber said.
The National Abstinence Education Association can be found on the Web at abstinenceassociation.org.

Abstinence education is defined in Section 510 of Title V of the Social Security Act as “an educational or motivational program that:

A. Has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;

B. Teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school age children;

C. Teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;

D. Teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity;

E. Teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;

F. Teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society;

G. Teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increases vulnerability to sexual advances; and

H. Teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.”

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  • Erin Roach