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Despite Program Failures, 2008 Republican Platform Calls for Increased Funding for Abstinence Education

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With the recent selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, Presidential candidate John McCain reinforced an ongoing Republican alignment with conservative Christians. The Alaskan Governor has been a strong proponent of both creationism and abstinence education for public school students.

Directly after McCain’s selection of Palin, the Republican Party formally released its platform for 2008. Among the educational planks was a commitment to pursue increased funding for abstinence education.

Support for Abstinence Education Dissipating

While the Republican stance sought to increase funding for the program, abstinence-only education has been losing steam in recent years. According to the web site WebMD Health News, “Seventeen states, including California, have opted out of the programs, choosing to forgo federal funds and instead teach about abstinence along with contraception, including condom use.”

A recent Associated Press article confirmed that data, noting “that participation in the program is down 40 percent over two years.” And while 28 states are still in, the AP reports that “Arizona and Iowa recently announced they will pull out at the start of the upcoming fiscal year.”

The end result is that of the $50 million budgeted for three possible Title V abstinence education programs only $21 million has actually been distributed.

Abstinence Only Education Deemed Ineffective

Though it is hard to imagine cash-strapped states forgoing potential funds for education in any form, recent data demonstrates that abstinence-only programs have failed to produce the desired outcome. Such programs show no evidence of delaying kids' first sexual experience nor have the programs been effective in reducing teen pregnancies for those who do have sex.

In discussing abstinence-only education, Harvey Feinberg, MD and President of the Institute of Medicine, noted a recent summary by the Cochrane Collaboration. Feinberg indicated that of 13 studies testing abstinence-only education, not one showed an “enduring effect” on teen’s sexual behavior.

"To limit them (sexual education programs) to abstinence-only does not comport with the evidence,” states Feinberg.

Despite that data, abstinence proponents point to recent teen pregnancy rates for support. According to the National Survey of Family Growth, pregnancy rates “have fallen from 117 births per 1,000 females in 1990 to 76 per 1,000 in 2002.”

However, John Santelli, a professor of population studies at Columbia University, indicated that “most of the 35% drop occurred before 1998, when two separate federal abstinence-only programs were started.”

Skepticism Amidst a Rigid Curriculum

While some states have pulled out of the program because of the continuous uncertainties regarding funding for the program, others have also taken note of the lack of supporting evidence of program success. For example, a rising pregnancy rate among 15-19 year-olds in Idaho had state officials thinking it was simply time to get out of the program.

In addition, opponents insist that the government program is simply too dogmatic. "It was just too strict," said Emily Hajek, a policy adviser to Iowa Governor Chet Culver. "You cannot be that prescriptive about how it has to be taught."

But any summation against abstinence education likely comes best from Dr. Ned Calonge, Colorado’s chief medical officer. Calonge’s assessment was based upon the federally funded study of four abstinence-only programs by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. published in April of 2007.

MPR “found that participants had just as many sexual partners as nonparticipants and had sex at the same median age as nonparticipants. That finding led Calonge to state:

"To show no benefit compared to nothing. That was striking. These are tax dollars that are going for no useful purpose, and it would not be responsible for us to take those dollars."

Uphill Battle for Republicans

Ironically, the platform also made a point of stressing support for programs that had a demonstrated track record of success. The platform states: "We advocate policies and methods that are proven and effective.”

While proponents of abstinence education continue to assert that abstinence is the only failsafe method for avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, there is no concrete evidence that this unambiguous message for adolescents is effective. Taken as a set of statements, increased funding for the governmental abstinence education program definitively contradicts the notion of supporting a program with a proven record.

And as for the presidential race and the Republican platform, given that Governor Palin is a proponent of abstinence education, the recent revelations regarding her teenage daughter, Bristol serve as additional evidence that the abstinence-only message simply does not cut it with adolescents.

In fact, Republicans, most especially Governor Palin, all have to be hoping that a 527 political action committee does not take a page out of the politics of personal destruction playbook that has been the hallmark of the Karl Rove era and apply it to the situation involving the Governor's teenage daughter.

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About Tom Hanson

  • Actually this is quite clever. When one’s learning about how Jesus invented DNA, studies show teenagers’ sex drive dramatically decreases.

    Teach both? Shit, teach all three.

  • Hmm, Matt. Jesus and 12 guys holed up in an attic drinking wine, eating “herbs” and chowing on lavosh bread while wearing togas on a Thursday night. Somehow I don’t think everyone abstained that night. Oh, Lord, I feel the hate coming.

  • jamminsue

    Tom, excellent article: You said: given that Governor Palin is a proponent of abstinence education, the recent revelations regarding her teenage daughter, Bristol serve as additional evidence that the abstinence-only message simply does not cut it with adolescents.
    I dislike being rude or saying inflammatory things, but am not sure how else to express this: How can one expect rationality or consistency from the Christian Right? They have been programmed (maybe they were never allowed to think) to have a very strident and cruel response to anyone who suggests anything but abstinence, despite overwhelming proof that it does not work (Remember Nancy Regan’s “Just say no”?). The attachment and monomania to ideas surrounding creating human life that may have been good at the end of the Plague or maybe the Flood is sad and confusing to the rest of us. The rest of us somehow manage to think and learned the Law of Minimum. We understand humans have no predators and have controlled disease, consequently, the population explosion is dangerous.
    This knee jerk response is the factor that won George HW and George W their Presidencies. Until these monomaniacal people lose their political clout, and are relegated back into the dark ages where they belong, the rest of us somehow have to find an issue to re-focus those who have followed this vocal minority and try to get some sanity back as the predominant voice in this country.

  • Lisa Solod Warren

    Just say NO never works, never will.

  • My kids went to Catholic school, where abstinence only is the only thing taught. Did the students there follow the direction of their health and religion teachers? From what I can determine: NOoooo… They are kids, and the natural tendencies of most teenagers is to do exactly the opposite of what their parents and teachers preach.

    Parents are most responsible, and they must provide all information and ALL options.

    No matter how diligent, it’s hard to just say “no” above the flush of raging hormones.

  • Wasn’t “Just Say No” an anti-drugs campaign?

    Still, the point is clear. Look how well that one worked out.

  • “Just say NO never works, never will.”

    Worked for most of the girls I dated.

  • With those eyebrows, Matt, I’m not surprised!


  • Cannonshop

    If your fear is that saying no might not work for your little girl, I recommend the gift of Pepper Spray and a stun-gun. These accessories go very well for the young lady on the go, and they’re less controversial than a handgun or good knife. (though it would, imho, be better if we could give young women access to, and training with, both.)

    If you’re afraid she WON’T say “No”, well…that’s different. Democrats have their quixotic causes, and this one’s the Republicans’ quixotic cause. Whether SHE says “No” or not is strongly influenced by her natural inclinations combined with her own reasoning capacity and decision making structure. Obviously, for example, Bristol did what millions of Preachers’ kids do, and defied Mom…with consequences. But I defy any Democrat to find five teenagers who don’t know what a Condom is for, or that Condoms are widely available cheap in the same places they use fake I.D. to buy smokes and beer.

  • Baronius

    Studies have shown that abstinence-only education doesn’t work, but abstinence-only programs do. They typically combine education with counseling or some reinforcements.

  • jamminsue

    “Just Say No” was the anti-drug policy put in place by President Ronald Regan, the man who declared ketchup is a vegetable.

    I was not referring to male rape, only that kids will experiment no matter what. Experimentation is part of the process towards becoming an adult. For healthy individuals, sex drive is farily strong during puberty and young aduthood. So having proper education on how human reproduction works and some options to hopefully delay the ultimate result, is not sinful or encouraging kids to experiment, it is recognizing a fact of human biology and giving kids CHOICES.

    Isn’t that what America is all about – education, choice and freedom of expression?

  • Baronius

    If you remember the culture of the 1970’s, you’ll know that “Just Say No” was actually a pretty important thing. It was the first time in a long while that anyone took an anti-drug stand.

  • jamminsue

    I never knew a time from when I remember – early 1960’s, ever since – when there was concern about drug use.

    Even during the Summer of Love there was concern