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Time to Get Rid of the Abstinence-Only Zombie

Allie Bohm,
Policy Counsel,
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September 29, 2010

I can’t believe we’re still talking about abstinence-only programs. You remember those black holes for taxpayer dollars that 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 Constitution? We thought they were gone for good last December when President Obama signed an appropriations bill that killed funding for the Community-Based Abstinence Education program. The Title V abstinence-only program, named for its place in the code — Title V of Welfare Reform — had already expired in June 2009.

But, like a recurring nightmare, Title V came back. Again. This time through Health Care Reform. Failed abstinence-only programs have already sucked up $1.5 billion in federal funding. Despite study after study showing that they fail to delay sexual initiation, reduce the number of sexual partners, or prepare teens to use protection if and when they decide to become sexually active, under the new health care reform act, this zombie program now demands $250 million more over five years.

Fortunately, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) are saying no. Today, they introduced the Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act of 2010, which would repeal the entire Title V statute, including the problematic A-H definition of abstinence. That’s the definition that allows programs to compare sexually active girls to dirty toothbrushes or to teach that HIV is punishment for ahomosexual “lifestyle.” With the definition gone, presto chango, no more zombie program returning to life.

And what of the $250 million? The Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act of 2010 would re-program the money and use it for the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), the first ever state grant program that provides funding for more comprehensive sex education. PREP-funded programs must teach sex ed (covering both contraception and waiting to have sex — novel, I know), as well as at least three other “adulthood preparation” subjects. Options include: healthy relationships, adolescent development, financial literacy, educational and career success, and/or healthy life skills.

The ACLU urges Congress to pass the Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act of 2010 and finally end these failed and stigmatizing abstinence-only programs once and for all.