President Obama Must Rethink His Stance Against Abstinence Education Funding

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 14, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

President Obama Must Rethink His Stance Against Abstinence Education Funding

by Valerie Huber
May 14, 2009 Note: Valerie Huber is the executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association. The organization is a national lobbying and educational face for groups and individuals who support abstinence education.

NAEA calls upon Congress to reject the President’s request to eliminate abstinence education funding from the 2010 budget. NAEA also urges the Administration to retract its overreaching decision to zero out abstinence education funding.

Abstinence education programs must continue using the same legislative guidelines as have been applied under the previous administrations of Clinton and Bush.

Last week the President announced that he would zero out all funding for abstinence education and replace it with $178 million to “prevent teen pregnancy."

Since the President released his detailed 2010 budget proposal to Congress, there have been numerous commentaries about the significance of his effort to eliminate abstinence education funding.

Major news sources described it as:

• a move to “kill” the abstinence education program (CQ )
• a "U-turn in what has been more than a decade of sex education policy in the USA." (USA Today)
• a way to “redirect funding from abstinence-only (sic) education programs” (Washington Post )
• a step that “slashed funding for programs that limited themselves exclusively to teaching sexual abstinence… effect saying there was no scientific evidence that favored abstinence-only programs…” (AP)

Anti-abstinence special interest groups lauded the move with particular glee . Others described this as a fulfillment of Obama’s campaign promise to eliminate such funding. In fact, the Obama campaign said this about abstinence education during the Presidential campaign: “(Obama) believes that we should not continue to fund abstinence-only programs.”

A HHS statement regarding the President’s move to initiate a new funding stream for “pregnancy prevention” states: “Previous evaluations indicate that the most positive results come from high intensity youth development programs that provide a range of services in addition to comprehensive sex education, such as after school activities, academic support, or service learning.”

Note that abstinence is not mentioned once in their description of the new pregnancy prevention program, indicating that they have no real intention to include primary prevention as a priority issue in their new vision for youth initiatives.

Yet, just yesterday, the White House seemed to be backpedaling a bit by issuing a statement to Baptist Press in which they tried to assure Americans that abstinence programs may be eligible for a small percentage of the new funding stream for ‘pregnancy prevention’. (Click here to read the White House statement and NAEA’s response). Statements by the White House ring hollow when they effectively reach the ears of spin-masters, but only serve to negatively impact the lives of needy youth.

There are several questions or areas of concern that immediately arise from President Obama’s move to replace abstinence funds with the newly proposed “pregnancy prevention” program:

1. How seriously can the recent White House statement be taken, given previous statements by the Obama campaign opposing abstinence education, together with the admission in a recent Wall Street Journal article that the White House does not expect abstinence programs to qualify for funding for ‘effective’ programs? Bottom line: Is this a move by the Administration to provide cover for themselves or is it a genuine effort to rethink their position?

2. Even if yesterday’s White House statement can be accepted at face value, what rationale can be given for immediately eliminating the valuable abstinence skills currently received by 2.5 million students under currently funded Title V and CBAE abstinence programs? At a time when STD rates among teens are at epidemic levels and teen birth rates are beginning to inch upward, why would the only approach that removes all risk be defunded?

3. Further, why would the recommendation be made to devote a minimum of 75% of funding to contraceptive-centered programs and a maximum of 25% (but probably far, far less) funding to abstinence-centered programs when sound public health policy always prioritizes the avoidance of risk through primary prevention (i.e. abstinence)? Shouldn’t more emphasis be made to identify what makes an abstinence program successful and then replicate those successes across the country rather than by de-funding a young approach that is already showing meaningful success?

4. How will programs be assessed? US News & World Report summarized the vagueness of the proposal language: “{It’s } not clear how "evidence-based" will be defined. Just how many studies are needed to determine if a program is effective? And how few are needed to deem a program ‘promising’?" NAEA also asks: How will effectiveness of contraceptive programs be assessed?

5. Is the Administration unaware that there actually is more compelling research for abstinence-centered education than for contraceptive-centered education? (See Abstinence Works 2009 and Dr. Stan Weed’s recent research for more detail)

6. Will the Administration apply expectations of accuracy and research evaluation to comprehensive sex education as is already applied to currently-funded abstinence education programs?

7. Is the President willing to rethink his proposal and reinsert continued funding for abstinence-centered education? The Wall Street Journal notes that de-funding abstinence education could be politically harmful so even political expediency calls for rethinking the current White House position.

Democrats and Republicans alike increasingly understand that abstinence education is a skill-building message that is essential in today’s sexualized culture. Parents, regardless of political affiliation, support abstinence education for their children. Teens continue to choose abstinence. It comes as no surprise, then, that about 400 teens came to Washington this spring to ask Congress and the President to preserve abstinence education. Programs are showing effect in the personal lives of many students as well as through growing empirical evidence of success.

These students really don’t care about politics. They are looking for help to reach their life goals and abstinence education is helping them in that pursuit. They hope that politics won’t derail their chances to continue to receive abstinence-centered education.

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