States are turning down federal funding for the discredited “abstinence-only” sex education program. The abstinence-only sex education program emphasizes complete abstinence from sex until marriage. Discussion of contraceptives is restricted to their failure rate.
The number of states refusing federal money for "abstinence-only" sex education programs jumped sharply in the past year as evidence mounted that the approach is ineffective.
At least 14 states have either notified the federal government that they will no longer be requesting the funds or are not expected to apply, forgoing more than $15 million of the $50 million available, officials said.
was the most recent state to opt out. Virginia
Two other states --
Ohioand -- have applied but stipulated they would use the money for comprehensive sex education, effectively making themselves ineligible, federal officials said. While Washington and the District are planning to continue applying for the money, other states are considering withdrawing as well. Maryland
Until this year, only four states had passed up the funding.
"We're concerned about this," said Stan Koutstaal of the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the program. "My greatest concern about states dropping out is that these are valuable services and programs. It's the youths in these states who are missing out."
The number of states spurning the money has grown even as Congress considers boosting overall funding for abstinence-only education to $204 million, with most of it going directly to community organizations.
The trend has triggered intense lobbying of state legislators and governors around the country. Supporters of the programs are scrambling to reverse the decisions, while opponents are pressuring more states to join the trend.
"This wave of states rejecting the money is a bellwether," said William Smith of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the
, a Washington-based advocacy and education group that opposes abstinence-only programs. "It's a canary in the coal mine of what's to come." United States
"We hope that it sends a message to the politicians in Washington that this program needs to change, and states need to be able to craft a program that is the best fit for their young people and that is not a dictated by Washington ideologues," Smith said.
Smith and other critics said they hoped that if enough states drop out, Congress will redirect the funding to comprehensive sex education programs that include teaching about the use of condoms and other contraceptives.
"I think this could be the straw that breaks the camel's back in terms of continued funding of these programs," said John Wagoner of Advocates for Youth, another
advocacy group. "How can they ignore so many states slapping a return-to-sender label on this funding?" Washington
The jump in states opting out follows a series of reports questioning the effectiveness of the approach, including one commissioned by Congress that was released earlier this year. In addition, federal health officials reported last week that a 14-year drop in teenage pregnancy rates appeared to have reversed.
"This abstinence-only program is just not getting the job done," said Cecile Richards of the Planned Parenthood Federation of
. "This is a ideologically based program that doesn't have any support in science." America
The program was started as part of the 1996 welfare reform. California, however, dropped out in 2000, forgoing more than $7 million it was eligible to receive, and
opted out in 2005, giving up $161,000. Most states, however, did participate. New Jersey decided to opt out last year, rejecting more than $900,000 in funding, and others followed. Maine
"The governor has often stated that abstinence-only education does not show any results," said Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who announced plans to give up the funding last month. "It doesn't work. He's a firm believer in more comprehensive sex education."
also decided this fall not to seek about $450,000 that it is eligible to receive. Colorado
"Why would we spend tax dollars on something that doesn't work?" asked Ned Calonge of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. "That doesn't make sense to me. Philosophically, I am opposed to spending government dollars on something that's ineffective. That's just irresponsible."
The reasons given for passing up the federal money vary from state to state. Some governors publicly repudiated the programs. Others quietly let their applications lapse or blamed tight budgets that made it impossible to meet the requirement to provide matching state funds. Still others are asking for more flexibility.
"The governor supports abstinence education," Keith Daily, a spokesman for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D). "What he does not support is abstinence- only education. We are asking to put the money toward abstinence in the context of a comprehensive age-appropriate curriculum."
It had been hoped the new Democratic leadership would eliminate the program from the budget this year but last June the House Appropriations subcommittee for Labor, Health & Human Services increased funding for the program. The subcommittee’s members saw the passage as a compromise in order to push through other legislation. The funding proposal then went from the subcommittee to the committee and into the budget later passed by Congress.
Philosophically, the bottom line of the abstinence only education approach is that knowledge is bad and ignorance is necessary for the preservation of innocence. This line of thinking simply runs counter to the Enlightenment concept that knowledge is power.
Abstinence only education is not education; it is indoctrination…that doesn’t work. Sexual abstinence for teenagers is desirable but the reality is significant numbers of teens are sexually active and need to know how to protect themselves and their partners. And regardless of whether they are sexually active or not they need to know what is going on with their bodies and the changes brought on by puberty. Common decency demands comprehensive sex education for our kids.
Perhaps with the President’s veto of the budget the Congress can cut this program once and for all.