Congress Debates Reauthorizing Funding for Abstinence-Only Education as Study on Effectiveness is Released
Congress yesterday debated a provision in pending welfare reform legislation that would reauthorize funding for abstinence-only sex education as a preliminary HHS-funded report finding no proof that such programs are effective was released, the AP/Los Angeles Times reports (AP/Los Angeles Times, 4/24). "There is ample information out there for young people about how to protect themselves in terms of comprehensive sex education. We have not made a clear, concise message to them about the benefits of abstinence," Claude Allen, deputy secretary of health and human services, said at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee (Connolly, Washington Post, 4/24). Bush's fiscal year 2003 budget proposal requests an overall 33% increase in abstinence education funding, a boost that would fulfill his promise to fund abstinence education programs at the same level as comprehensive sex education programs (Meckler, AP/Raleigh News & Observer, 1/31).
Some lawmakers criticized the administration's plans to fund both types of programs at the same level (Washington Post, 4/24). Medical experts testifying at the hearing were also divided. "There is abundant evidence that the 'safer sex' paradigm, despite more than 20 years and a variety of education programs designed to promote condom use, has not solved the problem," Joe McIlhaney of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health said. But David Kaplan, a pediatrics professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said that declines in teen pregnancy rates are due "not to abstinence messages but to more effective forms of contraception" (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 4/24).
Meanwhile, an independent, interim report sponsored by HHS states that there "is still no evidence" that abstinence-only education programs are effective in preventing teen pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the Associated Press reports (Meckler, Associated Press, 4/24). The interim report, released yesterday, presents the early implementation findings of a five-year study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research under contract to HHS. The study, which began in 1999, is evaluating the impact of abstinence programs on reducing early sexual activity (HHS release, 4/23). The report says that there is "no reliable evidence" indicating whether the programs work. "Most studies of abstinence education programs have methodological flaws that prevent them from generating reliable estimates of program impacts," the report states (Associated Press, 4/24). The interim report says that most abstinence program participants report "favorable feelings" about their experiences in the program and that abstinence programs "offer more than a single message of abstinence," often including lessons on self-esteem and decision-making. However, the report also states that abstinence programs have difficulty "engaging parents," addressing peer pressure and forming partnerships with local schools (HHS release, 4/23).