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Rachel Hart,
Reproductive Freedom Project
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January 8, 2008

So far, 2008 has been chock-full of opinion pieces on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, no doubt driven by the perfect storm of media coverage: Jamie-Lynn’s pregnancy in the tabloids, Juno, a new movie dealing with teen pregnancy, in theaters, and news coverage of 15 states that no longer accept federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

An editorial in Florida Today — the daily newspaper serving Brevard County, Florida — applauds the local school board’s 2007 decision giving students information on how to prevent unintended pregnancy and STDs, calling the decision “timely and wise.” The editorial notes that only a few counties in the state have followed Brevard’s lead.

On the other side of the state, The Tampa Tribune takes it one step further and calls on the Bush Administration to rethink its abstinence policies in the global fight against HIV/AIDS given the domestic failures of the programs.

Ohio’s Columbus Dispatch supports Governor Strickland’s take on abstinence-only programs:

The governor supports abstinence education. What he does not support is abstinence-only education. We are asking to put the money toward abstinence in the context of a comprehensive age-appropriate curriculum

In Houston, Texas, a columnist at The Katy Sun makes an unusual comparison about states’ dependence on federal funding:

It’s much like heroin for an addict. That’s the best way to describe federal money for state and local governments. They depend on it, and when it’s made available, they’ll go to great lengths to get it.

And a Washington Post reader has this to say about only teaching abstinence:

You can teach it. You can preach it. You can proselytize, and you can exemplify. You can cajole and bribe, threaten and chide, and advocate till you’re blue in the face. You can just lay out the facts and hope for the best.

Still, over the millennia, no civilization has yet devised a model for dissuading significant numbers of teenagers from having sex, certainly not to the overwhelming percentage necessary for abstinence-only to be an effective approach.

In light of the current wave of coverage, some smaller newspapers are taking a look at local issues surrounding teen pregnancy. The Journal News has a piece on the rising teen pregnancy rate in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley. Some high schools, including one in Port Chester, have programs to support pregnant and parenting teens (of the 525 girls in Port Chester High School, 19 are either pregnant or parenting) but an on-site medical clinic is only allowed to administer pregnancy tests — it can’t hand out condoms or prescribe birth control. And the Bristol Herald Courier in Virginia notes that the teen birth rate is up in Washington Country, Va., and Sullivan County, Tenn. (Bristol is on the Virgina/Tennessee border). Meanwhile, local groups in Virginia have announced their intentions to continue pushing for funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the state legislature.

All this coverage and yet there is still no movement in Congress to help teens get the information they need. A blog posting on RH Reality Check yesterday from Marcela Howell of Advocates for Youth had this to say about the Congress’s failure to take on federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs:

If you talk to some Hill staffers, they will tell you that there was no “community” (i.e., advocacy groups) will to push these issues. If you talk with the advocacy organizations, they’ll tell you that there was no real “political” (i.e., elected officials) will to take on difficult issues.

Either way you slice it, over 25 million American teens are the losers.

I only hope that this increased buzz on teen pregnancy and the failures of abstinence-only-until-marriage keeps up. We need more people to realize that the federal government’s insistence on a policy of abstinence-only-until-marriage is not only endangering teens, but also wasting an opportunity to address the high rates of pregnancy and STD transmission among teens in the U.S.

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