ACLU Applauds GAO Letter in Support of Medically Accurate Sex Education for Teens

October 19, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded a letter issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stating that federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are bound by federal law to provide medically accurate information about condom effectiveness. The GAO issued the letter yesterday to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which administers abstinence-only-until-marriage grants.

“Abstinence-only programs not only endanger teens when they fail to provide medically accurate information about the effectiveness of condoms, they also violate the law,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “We’re pleased that the Government Accountability Office is stepping in to ensure that federal dollars are used in compliance with federal law.

“It is extremely troubling that the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency charged with protecting the health of all Americans, is allowing its publicly funded grantees to provide misleading, inaccurate information to teens,” said Fredrickson.”

Many of the curricula used by federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs vastly understate the effectiveness of condoms at protecting against sexually transmitted diseases and preventing unintended pregnancy. As a result, teens get the false message that there is little point in using condoms when they become sexually active. Studies have shown that such programs are ineffective at helping teens delay having sex, and in fact, may actually deter teens who become sexually active from protecting themselves from unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

The GAO’s letter examines whether the Public Health Service Act, which requires certain education materials to contain medically accurate information about condom effectiveness, applies to federal abstinence-only-until-marriage grantees. In July, HHS issued a letter saying that the Public Health Service Act’s requirements did not apply to abstinence-only-until-marriage grantees because the primary purpose of such programs is not to address sexually transmitted disease (STDs), and materials prepared by grantees are for various target populations and not for the general population. The GAO found both of these reasons unpersuasive.

Currently, no federal funds are dedicated to supporting comprehensive sexual education programs that teach both abstinence and contraceptive use. However, since 1997, the federal government has spent more than a billion dollars on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

For more information on the ACLU’s work protecting access to reproductive health care visit:

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