Los Angeles Times Examines Debate Over ‘Abstinence-Only’ Education
The Los Angeles Times yesterday examined the debate surrounding "abstinence-only" education, one of the few "federal social program[s] that President Bush wants to beef up." In his fiscal year 2003 budget proposal, Bush has asked Congress for a 30% increase in spending -- to $135 million -- to encourage teenagers to "abstain from sex as their only form of birth control." The popularity of such programs has steadily increased since passage of the 1996 welfare reform act, in which Congress tightened the rules by which localities could obtain federal funding for sex education, stating that abstinence programs were to focus solely on the "social, psychological and health gains" of avoiding premarital sex. Advocates of abstinence-only education say this straightforward message is needed to prevent teens from engaging in premarital sex and that teaching about safe sex and contraception detracts from that goal. Claude Allen, HHS deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, said, "If I have a shiny new Lamborghini parked in the driveway with the keys on the hall table and I say to my son, 'I don't want you to drive that car until you are older,' and then I say, 'But if you do drive it, please wear a seat belt,' what do you think he will do? That's a mixed message." But proponents of comprehensive sex education call Bush's push for abstinence-only programs "unduly prescriptive and not very effective." Seventy-one organizations recently sent a letter to Bush "embrac[ing]" what they call "abstinence plus," which urges teens not to engage in premarital sex but also provides education about contraception. The debate, which could escalate when Congress reviews federal welfare policy in the next few months, comes as national teenage birth rates, though still higher than in any other industrialized nation, have dropped significantly from their 1991 level. According to Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, abstinence and contraception both contributed to the 22% drop in birth rates in the 1990s. It was "because of both -- less sex and more contraception," she added (Garvey/Peterson, Los Angeles Times, 3/3).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.