ACLU Says Abstinence-Only Education Endangers Adolescent Health, Urges Congress to Make Available Other Valuable Information

April 23, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – While acknowledging that discussions about abstinence can be valuable in any sexuality education program, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged Congress to oppose federal funding for programs that focus exclusively on teaching abstinence and which censor other valuable and often life-saving information for teens.

“While teaching abstinence is not in itself a bad thing, focusing on it to the exclusion of scientifically valid and life-saving information about contraception and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases is foolish and dangerous,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington National Office. “Abstinence-only programs constitute government censorship, entangle state and religion, imperil gay and lesbian teens and endanger adolescents’ health.”

The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee held hearings today on HR 4122, a bill that would reauthorize until 2007 an abstinence-only-until-marriage education program that currently receives $50 million a year in government funding. The federal government provides another $50 million a year in abstinence funding through other abstinence programs.

The bill would continue the denial of federal funds to any program that does not have abstinence as its “exclusive focus,” which means that teachers are explicitly precluded from sharing any other information about sexual conduct, including facts about preventing pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases with the use of recognized methods of contraception.

The ACLU strongly opposes abstinence-only programs because of the potential for real world harm to young people. Murphy said that there is no compelling research that shows abstinence-only education is effective in preventing sexual activity or reducing the rates of teenage pregnancy and STD infection. Studies have shown, however, that including information both about abstinence and recognized methods of contraception is the most effective way to prevent these harmful consequences.

Critics of abstinence-only programs also say that they create a hostile environment for gay and lesbian youth. The ACLU said that discussions about sex only in the context of marriage stigmatize gay and lesbian teens and undercut efforts to educate these students about HIV and STD prevention. Two of the most widely used teaching packages used in these programs – Clue 2000 and Facing Reality – are explicitly hostile to gay men and lesbians.

In addition, the ACLU and other opponents have raised concerns over the often overtly religious character of these programs and the consequent implications for the entanglement of religion and government. In one case, a grant-proposal seeking funds for abstinence-only education included a request for $750 to purchase and engrave bibles for each participant.

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