As part of its FY2003 budget request, the Bush administration has proposed a dramatic increase in federal spending for abstinence-only sexuality education. The administration claims that this funding increase will achieve "parity" between what the federal government spends on teen family planning medical services and on abstinence-only education; however, such a comparison reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the purposes of these programs, according to an analysis in the February, 2002 issue of The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy.
The analysis, "Abstinence Promotion and Teen Family Planning: The Misguided Drive for Equal Funding," by Senior Public Policy Associate, Cynthia Dailard, explains that the proposed increase would add $33 million to federal spending on programs that conform to an extremely narrow definition of abstinence-only education, for example teaching that sex outside of marriage—for people of all ages—is likely to have harmful physical and psychological effects. These programs are not allowed to advocate contraceptive use or even to discuss contraceptive methods, except to emphasize their failure rates.
The "parity" argument is flawed, says Dailard, in that it compares apples to oranges by equating restrictive abstinence-only education with family planning medical services provided through Medicaid and Title X of the Public Service Health Act. Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poorest Americans, reimburses health care providers for services rendered, while Title X supports the delivery of a broad package of family planning and related health services to low-income adults and teenagers. That package of services includes not only a choice of contraceptive methods but also Pap smears, breast exams, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, screening for hypertension, diabetes and anemia, and counseling on the value of postponing sexual activity.
The report also reviews recent research that indicates that there is no evidence to date to suggest that abstinence-only education programs are effective at delaying sexual activity. Moreover, virginity pledge programs may in fact have harmful health consequences by deterring the use of contraceptives when teens become sexually active. In contrast, research shows that more comprehensive forms of sexuality education that discuss both abstinence and contraception can be effective in helping to delay sexual activity, while also reducing the number of sexual partners and improving contraceptive use among sexually active teens.
"After over five years and more than half a billion dollars of federal investment in abstinence-only education, there remains no credible scientific evidence that these programs work," says Dailard. "It is critical that the federal government start investing in proven sexuality education programs that send a strong message to young people to delay sexual activity, while also stressing the importance of protecting themselves against unintended pregnancy and disease when they do become sexually active."
The February, 2002 issue also features several other analyses:
• "Efforts Renew to Deny Family Planning Funds to Agencies that Offer Abortions," by Rachel Benson Gold discusses the history of state and federal efforts to prevent agencies that provide abortions with their own funds from receiving public funding for family planning, and highlights current activities in this area.
• "Teen Pregnancy: Trends and Lessons Learned," by Heather Boonstra reviews recent research findings on teenage pregnancy and discusses some of their policy implications as Congress moves toward reauthorizing welfare reform and debates marriage promotion and abstinence-only sexuality education initiatives.
b>• "Congress and Reproductive Health: Major Actions in 2001 and A Look Ahead," by Susan Cohen reviews last year's federal legislative action on reproductive health issues and examines the administration's FY 2003 budget request.
• "Not Waiting for Congress to Act, Some States Move to Ban Human Cloning," by Adam Sonfield compares state research bans that prohibit reproductive and therapeutic cloning. Since 1997, five states - California, Louisiana, Michigan, Rhode Island and Virginia—have enacted laws that explicitly ban some form of human cloning.