Back to News & Commentary

The Facts As They Are

Rachel Hart,
Reproductive Freedom Project
Share This Page
July 29, 2005

Last week, while writing about HHS’s misguided attempt to help parents talk to their kids about sex (, I came across a quote from Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) that I think speaks volumes about what the abstinence-only-until-marriage vs. comprehensive sex-ed debate is really about: “A federally funded website should present the facts as they are, not as you might wish them to be.

The facts as they are. It seems so simple. However, being faithful to this statement isn’t as easy as it sounds. For many people it becomes especially difficult to present the facts as they are — or embrace solutions – when they don’t fit into their idea of what is morally acceptable.

What do I mean by this? Take Brazil for example. Recently, that country’s commitment to the facts forced it to turn down $40 million from the United States Agency for International Development to fight AIDS. Some of the money would have been used to support organizations like Fio da Alma, a group that distributes condoms to one of the country’s most at-risk populations for contracting the AIDS virus — sex workers. Why did Brazil turn down the money? Because its efforts to stem the spread of the virus, despite their effectiveness (AIDS infections in Brazil have dropped by almost half since 1990 while skyrocketing in other developing countries), are not in line with U.S. requirements that recipient organizations must stress abstinence and condemn prostitution.

Brazil accepted the facts as they are. The government saw the potential for a pandemic. It recognized that particular populations were at an enormous risk for contracting the virus, and instead of deciding on the ultimate rightness or wrongness of prostitution, Brazil chose a solution that puts the health and lives of its citizens above a moral agenda. As the director of the Brazilian government’s AIDS program said, “If we increasingly focus the prevention of AIDS along these lines [abstinence], we are generating carnage, a slaughter. It’s not a realistic vision, and the epidemic is going to grow larger and larger.”

And that brings us back to the issue of safe sex in our nation’s schools. Abstinence for teens is an essential part of sex education. I don’t refute that. But what should we do for those teens who don’t abstain from sex? (And the reality is that most teens don’t abstain.) Should we fill their sex-ed lessons with scare tactics and misinformation? Or should we put aside our ideas of what is morally acceptable and face the fact that more than our judgment these teens need information on how to protect themselves?

I say we deal with the facts as they are, and not as we wish them to be.