On Wednesday, for the first time, a congressional committee took on the task of examining the $1.5 billion failure of government-funded abstinence-only programs. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-CA-30) called on public health experts and young people whose lives have been deeply affected by the ineffective programs to urge lawmakers to reconsider the abysmally poor use of taxpayer dollars.
At this point, the weight of the evidence cannot be ignored, and under the glare of a congressional inquiry policymakers will have to answer tough questions about why we continue to waste millions of dollars a year on a policy that has failed to keep teens healthy and safe.
At this hearing, two young adults told the congressional panel about their experiences with abstinence-only programs. Max Siegel, who now works with the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth, and Families, said that "the abstinence-only message did not prepare me for life, and I contracted HIV from the first person with whom I consented to having unprotected sex. I was still in high school."
In addition, public health expert John Santelli, M.D., M.P.H., testified before the committee about numerous independent studies, including federally funded evaluations, that have concluded that abstinence-only programs do nothing to delay teenage sexual activity and do not adequately prepare young people to make responsible health decisions.
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Recently, the CDC found that at least one in four teen girls has a sexually transmitted infection (STI), and that the teen birthrate is on the rise for the first time in 16 years.
The moving testimony by the two young people who shared their personal stories exposes the stark reality that abstinence-only programs are failing our teens. It's time to put our money toward real solutions that will help prevent sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies among teenagers.
To date, 17 states have refused to accept federal funds for abstinence-only programs.
Planned Parenthood is a leading advocate for school education programs that will keep teens healthy – by including information about abstinence as well as about contraception, healthy communication, responsible decision making, and prevention of sexually transmitted infections.
Planned Parenthood has the nation's largest network of sex educators, who teach young people in schools and communities nationwide, every day, how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.
In our affiliates' 860 health centers across the country, our providers and educators see firsthand the price that young people pay when they are denied access to medically accurate, comprehensive sex education that could help them protect their lives and their futures. That's why today we submitted a statement for the Congressional Record urging Congress to work with those of us in the reproductive health community to find commonsense solutions to put an end to this public health crisis.