This week, in The Washington Post, Thomas B. Edsall reports on how â€œmillions of dollars in taxpayer funds have flowed to groups that support President Bushâ€™s agenda on abortion and other social issues. Under the auspices of its religion-based initiatives and other federal programs, the administration has funneled at least $157 million in grants to organizations run by political and ideological allies.â€? Edsall goes on to cite numerous examples of organizations and programs that have received funding from the Bush administration.
Not surprisingly, a goodly (or is it godly?) amount of these grants have subsidized initiatives in abstinence education that seek to encourage adolescents and young adults to eschew sexual activity (i.e., Just Say No To Sex). Often, such initiativesâ€”coming as they do from faith-based organizationsâ€”appear to lack the thoroughness (and thus the effectiveness) of more traditional, per se, programs in sexuality education. Research strongly suggests that abstinence-only programs are problematic in many ways. The Journal of Adolescent Health recently published a â€œposition paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicineâ€? that confronts this very issue. An excerpt from its summary follows:
Providing â€œabstinence onlyâ€? or â€œabstinence until marriageâ€? messages as a sole option for teenagers is flawed from scientific and medical ethics viewpoints. Efforts to promote abstinence should be based on sound science. Although federal support of abstinence-only programs has grown rapidly since 1996, the evaluations of such programs find little evidence of efficacy in delaying initiation of sexual intercourse. Conversely, efforts to promote abstinence, when offered as part of comprehensive reproductive health promotion programs that provide information about contraceptive options and protection from STIs have successfully delayed initiation of sexual intercourse. Moreover, abstinence-only programs are ethically problematic, being inherently coercive and often providing misinformation and withholding information needed to make informed choices. In many communities, abstinence-only education (AOE) has been replacing comprehensive sexuality education. In some communities, AOE has become the basis for suppression of free speech in schools. Abstinence-only education programs provide incomplete and/or misleading information about contraceptives, or none at all, and are often insensitive to sexually active teenagers. Federally funded abstinence-until-marriage programs discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, as federal law limits the definition of marriage to heterosexual couples.
Schools and health care providers should encourage abstinence as an important option for teenagers. â€œAbstinence-onlyâ€? as a basis for health policy and programs should be abandoned.
So the $157 million dollar question is: How exactly are these funds being spent? On programs based on sound science or based on religious/moral beliefs? And are the grantees and the Bush administration adhering to regulations governing the separation of church and state? There is plenty of reason to be skeptical and concerned. Perhaps the President and his conservative followers would do well to put aside their Puritan queasiness about sexuality and instead focus on more substantive issues, such as abstaining from war, domestic spying, and political corruption and patronage. That sort of abstinence would certainly make my heart grow fonder.