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A Perfect Time for Abstinence-Only Programs to get the Old Heave-Ho

Elayne Weiss,
Washington Legislative Office
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March 18, 2011

Over the last several weeks, we’ve heard quite a bit of heated rhetoric about federal spending, including misguided and ill-advised calls to defund Planned Parenthood and the Title X Family Planning Program. But finally there was a breath of fresh air on Tuesday when Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced a bill to end taxpayer-funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

Although funding for such programs expired in 2009, the program was restored in 2010 by the health care reform law. In this tough economic environment, difficult funding decisions must be made; however, cutting abstinence-only education is a no-brainer. Study after study has shown that these programs, which have eaten up more than $1.5 billion in federal funds over the past 15 years, fail to dissuade teens from engaging in sexual activity or educate them on how to use proper protection to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. Instead, abstinence-only programs censor vital healthcare information, promote gender stereotypes, provide inaccurate information, stigmatize lesbian and gay teens, and, in some cases, promote religion in violation of the First Amendment.

The bill, the Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act, would strike the Title V abstinence-only education grant program, and instead re-program $50 million annually to evidence-based comprehensive sex education programs through the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP). PREP-funded programs take a realistic approach to educating teens about sex by covering both contraception and abstinence. Additionally, these programs must offer classes that provide practical information, such as healthy relationships and financial literacy, to better prepare teens as they transition into adulthood.

Hopefully, our elected representatives will recognize that it is these types of programs, which have real results, and not ineffective abstinence-only programs that deserve to receive our tax dollars.

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