Much commotion has been kicked up over the report that, in contradiction to years of previous research and data, there has finally been an abstinence-only study that shows that it can work under some circumstances if it’s taught properly.
The major problem: What the study describes isn’t abstinence-only sex ed.
Here are the key paragraphs of the WaPo story on the study:
Several critics of an abstinence-only approach said that the curriculum tested did not represent most abstinence programs. It did not take a moralistic tone, as many abstinence programs do. Most notably, the sessions encouraged children to delay sex until they are ready, not necessarily until married; did not portray sex outside marriage as never appropriate; and did not disparage condoms.
“There is no data in this study to support the ‘abstain until marriage’ programs, which research proved ineffective during the Bush administration,” said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth.
Wagoner is absolutely right here. Furthermore, if what the study calls “abstinence-only” sex ed were to actually be taught in schools, it wouldn’t be eligible for abstinence-only funding — because it would be considered to promote (because it doesn’t condemn) condom usage and/or birth control, as well as sex outside of marriage!
At first, program guidance issued by MCH allowed grant recipients some flexibility in how they spent the funds. For instance, MCH did not require states and their sub-grantees to emphasize all eight elements of the definition equally, even though grantees could not provide information that contradicted any of the eight points. Beginning in FY2005, however, when the Bush administration moved the funding to another division within the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), grant announcements eliminated this flexibility, asking states instead to “develop programs that place equal emphasis on each element of the abstinence education definition.”
By 2007, grant announcements stated that “each element of A through H should be meaningfully represented in all grantees’ federally funded abstinence education curricula.” The latest grant announcement also required states to provide assurance that funded programs and curricula “do not promote contraception and/or condom use.” In addition, in an effort to ensure that funds would not be spent on pre-adolescents, the targeted population was redefined as “adolescents and/or adults within the 12 through 29-year-old age range.” The newest age definition also included “other adults such as parents or professionals that desire training in how to support decisions to delay sexual activity until marriage.” “Focal populations” under this newer definition included: students at local universities, colleges, or technical schools; single adults involved in a local community or community-based organization; and single parents in their 20s.
This tightening of program requirements, including the new directive to target adults, has contributed to an emerging revolt against abstinence-only sex education. States have now turned down millions of dollars in federal grants. The number of states that refused Title V abstinence-only funding has grown from one (California) in the first year to eight in FY2007 (California, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin).
Abstinence-only funding to the states was first administered by MCH. However in 2004, the Bush administration transferred oversight of the program to the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACF), a more ideologically driven division within HHS. ACF has also assumed jurisdiction over Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE), a more restrictive funding stream for abstinence-only education.
So, to sum up:
— It’s a scheme that only exists in the laboratory, not in the wild
— It isn’t really about abstinence programs as they’ve been designed by religious anti-sex groups, as it doesn’t depict condoms and birth control as evil and ineffective — yet it’s being used to sell the same old ineffective total-abstinence bullcrap that we’ve known for years doesn’t work.
— It is so unlike what’s actually being taught — and what will continue to be taught — as abstinence-based sex ed that it isn’t eligible for federal funding!
So what’s the point of it? It’s a cutout, a bait-and-switch, a shield to protect the millions of dollars in faith-based taxpayer-funded pork for the religious right-winger groups that back the GOP. (The timing — right after the unveiling of Obama’s new budget, which defunds abstinence-only programs — could not be more suggestive.)
The hundreds of millions of dollars that’s pumped through abstinence-only projects each year are, at best, subject only to very limited Congressional oversight over either the content of the curriculum (which is based on bogosities) or where the money actually goes. That means there’s nothing to keep it from being used to fund right-wing organizational infrastructure and serve as an indirect payoff for get-out-the-vote operations that just happen to benefit Republican candidates. Oh, and it looks like Bush was helping them get into the Federally-funded faith-based “drug treatment program” racket, too. Despite the fact that this doesn’t work, either, except as a way to funnel tax dollars to politically-conservative religious groups.