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News Round Up: Congress Rolls Over, Florida, Maryland and South Carolina

Rachel Hart,
Reproductive Freedom Project
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July 31, 2007

A lot has happened in the abstinence-only world as of late.Earlier this month, Congress reauthorized funding for abstinence-only programs at least until September 30, 2007. James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth had this to say about the extension:

In one inglorious motion, Democratic leaders sold out the health and well-being of young people, delivered a public slap in the face to evidence-based public health and made a mockery of their ‘prevention first’ message.

Katha Pollit of The Nation was none too pleased herself and offered this take on Congress’s sudden lack of courage:

Practical explanation: throwing Republicans this trivial bone would build a veto-proof majority for a bill Bush has promised to reject — a $152 billion bill crammed with good things, from more funding for Pell grants and for math and science education to $27.8 million more for Title X, the family planning program for low-income people. $27.8 million for claptrap, $27.8 million for reproductive health care. That’s only fair.Did the strategy at least succeed? Apparently not. Republicans did not provide that veto-proof majority. Instead, the reality-based community has been demoralized, while the Purity Ballers whirl happily round the dance floor.

Meanwhile, an op-ed in The Boston Globe declared that now is the perfect time for Congress to “reverse the health policy disaster that abstinence-only programs promote” after recent evidence demonstrating that these programs don’t work and allegations by former Surgeon General Richard Carmona that the Bush Administration repeatedly silenced his opinions on the issue. It remains unclear, however, whether Congress is ready to step up to the plate.And things remain heated at the state-level. The debate over abstinence-only is raging in several Florida counties. Teens in St. Lucie County are still waiting for a revamped sex ed curriculum — a process that started in 2004. An article in The St Petersburg Times reports that many students in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are receiving abstinence-only-until-marriage instruction, and Brevard County continues to struggle with agreeing on a curriculum. A local doctor, and parent of two teenage daughters, had this to say about the controversey in Brevard:

As a physician, I learned long ago that my job is to help people without expecting everyone to have the same values as I. The school board needs to realize its job is to educate our children without being judgmental.Teaching abstinence-only denies half of our high school students the information they need for their health and well-being.As a physician and as a father of two teenagers, I am for abstinence — but against ignorance.

An article out of South Carolina examines how potential cuts in federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs could affect that state. In particular the article looks at the Heritage program which has received over $12 million in state and federal money since 1995 and notes that several school districts in the state have stopped using the Heritage curricula over concerns about inaccurate information.And finally, I’ve blogged a number of times about the controversy over the Montgomery school district sex ed curriculum. There are no shortage of parents, students, administrators, and community members who are willing to weigh in on the debate. Last week, the Washington Post featured a large section of letters-to-the-editor — the majority of which support the new comprehensive and tolerance-promoting curriculum. Here’s a small sampling:

— The more students learn about how to use contraceptives and condoms in particular, the better.— Teenagers, particularly those who are gay or transgender, need this information [on sexual orientation and gender identity], as do their families. I wish that it had been available to my children when they were in middle and high school.— The question of whether schools should present factual material about a subject that the average teenager thinks about every couple of seconds kind of answers itself. To think that the presentation of scientifically solid information about sexual orientation and the use of condoms will turn a straight youth into a homosexual (or modest behavior into debauchery) confers superpowers on mere teachers and belittles our children.— Instructions on the proper use of matches, knives and power tools does not presuppose adolescents’ aggressive/violent use of these things with other people. Truly, knowledge can produce strength and thoughtfulness in youth.— If youths aren’t educated about sex and its responsibilities, diseases and consequences, where will they get truthful answers when they need them? When youths are given the right information, they are better equipped to make decisions that can affect their whole life.— As a researcher and professor of higher education who teaches sexuality issues, I am appalled at how much abstinence-only education and other repressive measures have attenuated my students’ education by the time they get to college. They are much less informed on basic health issues than students their age used to be. We need to go forward, not backward.— Schools may be where formal sex education takes place, but it’s at home where kids soak in the truly meaningful aspects of these topics. Parents are the ones who can go beyond the “what” to the “why.” Schools can’t, nor should they be expected to, do all that. So whether you’re a parent in favor of the new content or opposed to it, you’ve got plenty of work to do with your kids after the school bell rings.— Let’s keep our children informed and educated. Hiding our heads in the sand will not curb the behavior of our young people. The more education that our children have, the better equipped they will be to make decisions and to deal with the world we live in today. Sexual orientation is not a choice, and homophobia is all about lack of education.

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