Ab-Only Put on Notice: Groups Prepare Legal Case to Protect Teens

Scott Swenson

HHS has been put on notice by three organizations ready to go to court to protect teens from false, inaccurate and dangerous abstinence-only materials published with your tax dollars.

Citing "several federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that include medically inaccurate information in violation of federal law" the ACLU, Adovcates for Youth and SIECUS today put the Bush Administration on notice: comply with the law or be prepared to go to court in 30 days.

A nine-page letter notifies Secretary of Health and Human Services Micahel O. Leavitt of violations of federal statutes that require medically accurate information. Listing numerous abstinence-only documents, web sites and teachings published with taxpayer dollars that contain blatantly false and medically inaccurate information, the letter challenges HHS to change the abstinence-only materials or be forced to by the courts.

The Bush Administration's abstinence-only policies have come under withering scrutiny, including allegations of fraud committed by many of its staunchest proponents as they prepare to launch a smear campaign in the media trying to save their billion-dollar boondoggle. Most damaging of all is an independent research study clearly indicating that abstinence-only programs simply do not work and waste tax dollars. Congressional leaders are being called upon to do the right thing for America's youth and de-fund these programs.

“This is not the first time HHS has been asked to address serious problems in federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs,” said Julie Sternberg, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and author of today’s letter. “The federal government’s insistence on putting ideology before teenagers’ health has to stop.”

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“HHS cannot justify giving teens incomplete and misleading information about how to protect themselves against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection, including HIV,” said John Santelli, MD, MPH, Chair of the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University and the author of a 20-page declaration enumerating the medical inaccuracies in the federal programs. The declaration accompanied today's letter.

The charges filed today implicate the following abstinence-only materials as containing false information in violation of federal statutes:

  • Me, My World, My Future, published by Teen Aid
  • Sexulaity, Commitment and Family, published by Teen Aid
  • Who kNOws?, published by AAA Women's Service
  • 4Parents.gov, published by HHS
  • Parents, Speak Up!, published by HHS

Parents, this list should be read like pet-owners following the latest listing of contaminated pet foods, one difference being the government is not being the watch dog it should be in this case and is funding the inacurate information contained within these, and other, absintence-only materials. The other difference being the health endagnered here is that of your children, as well as their education and their ability to grow to be responsible decision makers living happy and healthy sexual lives free from shame, fear and stigma the government currently promotes.

“The tragedy is not simply the waste of taxpayer dollars, it is the damage done to the young people who have been on the receiving end of distorted, inaccurate information about condoms and birth control,” said James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth. “The government has been promoting ignorance in the era of AIDS, and that’s not just bad public health policy, that’s bad ethics.”

“The issue at hand here is quite simple: government funds should not be used to support deliberate deception,” said William Smith, Vice President for Public Policy of SIECUS. “If HHS refuses to provide accountability and continues to violate basic values, we’ll force them to do right by the American people.”

Currently, no federal funds are dedicated to supporting sexuality education programs that both teach abstinence and include complete and medically accurate information about how to use contraceptives effectively, despite evidence that these programs can delay sexual activity and increase contraceptive use among teens.

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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