ACLU, Advocates for Youth, and SIECUS Say Government Funded Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Materials Violate Federal Law

April 26, 2007 12:00 am

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Groups Call on Government to Remedy Violations and Ensure Materials Contain Medically Accurate Information about Condom Effectiveness

WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union, Advocates for Youth, and Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) today sent a letter and supporting materials to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) identifying several federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that include medically inaccurate information in violation of federal law. The groups called on HHS to immediately remedy the violations or face a legal challenge from the ACLU.

“HHS cannot justify giving teens incomplete and misleading information about how to protect themselves against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection, including HIV,” said John Santelli, MD, MPH, Chair of the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University and the author of a declaration enumerating the medical inaccuracies in the federal programs, which accompanies today’s letter. “The evidence is clear: when used properly condoms are highly effective. This is vital information that should be part of all sexuality education programs.”

Today’s letter to HHS said three federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula, Me, My World, My Future; Sexuality, Commitment & Family; and Why kNOw, along with HHS’s own Web site and pamphlet, Parents, Speak Up!, all violate a federal law requiring certain educational materials to contain medically accurate information about condom effectiveness. In addition to the letter, the groups submitted supporting materials, including Santelli’s declaration.

“This is not the first time HHS has been asked to address serious problems in federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs,” said Julie Sternberg, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and author of today’s letter. “The federal government’s insistence on putting ideology before teenagers’ health has to stop.”

Today’s letter notes that in October 2006, the Government Accountability Office informed HHS that its federally funded programs are bound by the Public Health Service Act, which requires medically accurate information about condom effectiveness in certain educational materials. Because HHS failed to adequately respond to the GAO’s concerns, its federally funded programs continue to feature inaccurate and misleading information, the groups said. The letter discusses several other instances in which problems with federal abstinence-only programs have been brought to HHS’s attention to little or no avail.

“The tragedy is not simply the waste of taxpayer dollars, it is the damage done to the young people who have been on the receiving end of distorted, inaccurate information about condoms and birth control,” said James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth. “The government has been promoting ignorance in the era of AIDS, and that’s not just bad public health policy, that’s bad ethics.”

Today’s action comes after the release earlier this month of a federally commissioned study showing that, notwithstanding the $176 million federal funds currently poured into them annually, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs don’t work. The study looked at several federally funded programs and found that teens who participated in them were just as likely to have sex as teens who did not participate.

“The issue at hand here is quite simple: government funds should not be used to support deliberate deception,” said William Smith, Vice President for Public Policy of SIECUS. “If HHS refuses to provide accountability and continues to violate basic values, we’ll force them to do right by the American people.”

Currently, no federal funds are dedicated to supporting sexuality education programs that both teach abstinence and include complete and medically accurate information about how to use contraceptives effectively, despite evidence that these programs can delay sexual activity and increase contraceptive use among teens.

Today’s letter is available at:

Today’s declaration is available at:

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