AP: States Turn Down US Abstinence-Only Grants

Scott Swenson

The Associated Press explains why, even in tough economic times, cash-strapped states are refusing federal abstinence-only dollars. Is Congress listening?

The Associated Press is just out with a major story about how in tough economic times, cash-strapped states are refusing federal tax dollars for abstinence-only programs. The story is one more in a long line of damning pieces of evidence about the failures of abstinence-only programs, the waste of tax dollars they represent, and should be a wake up call to Congress.

AP reporter Kevin Freking writes:

Skeptical states are shoving aside millions of federal dollars for
abstinence education, walking away from the program the Bush
administration touts for slowing teen sexual activity.

Barely half the states are still in, and two more say they are leaving.

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$50 million has been budgeted for this year, and financially strapped
states might be expected to want their share. But many have doubts that
the program does much, if any good, and they’re frustrated by chronic
uncertainty that it will even be kept in existence. They also have to
chip in state money in order to receive the federal grants.

Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, made his decision to leave based on the
congressionally mandated curriculum, which teaches "the social,
psychological and health gains of abstaining from sexual activity."
Instructors must teach that sexual activity outside of marriage is
likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects. "It
was just too strict," said Emily Hajek, policy adviser to Culver. "We
believe local providers have the knowledge to teach what’s going to be
best in those situations, what kind of information will help those
young people be safe. You cannot be that prescriptive about how it has
to be taught."

A federal tally shows that participation in the
program is down 40 percent over two years, with 28 states still in.
Arizona and Iowa have announced their intention to forgo their share of
the federal grant at the start of the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.


Readers of Rewire certainly understand the waste, fraud and abuse that abstinence-only programs represent, and the inherent danger they are to teens who are not getting accurate information about their sexual health. This AP story, likely appearing in thousands of newspapers across the country tomorrow morning, and to be featured in radio and television newscasts, will help Americans better understand what they intuitively already do — abstinence-only is a complete failure and waste of their tax dollars.

"The funding stream became inconsistent. We didn’t know from one
quarter to the next whether we’d be getting the rest of the money,"
said Elke Shaw-Tulloch of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
"We got to the point where we didn’t have any infrastructure to put the
money to use. At the same time, there was mounting evidence the
abstinence programs weren’t proving to be effective."

Throw in a
rising pregnancy rate among 15-19 year-olds in Idaho — 2,543
pregnancies in 2006 compared with 2,396 in 2004 — and state officials
decided last summer it was time to get out.


Study after study has demonstrated abstinence-only’s ineffectiveness, and as the AP points out, the Mathematica report in particular is being cited by some of the states as a reason to stop the programs.

In April 2007, a federally funded study of four abstinence-only
programs by Mathematica Policy Research Inc., found that participants
had just as many sexual partners as nonparticipants and had sex at the
same median age as nonparticipants. The four programs had taught
students about human anatomy and sexually transmitted diseases, helped
them improve their communication skills, manage peer pressure, set
personal goals and build self-esteem.

For Colorado, the study
results sealed the decision to get out of the program. Dr. Ned Calonge,
the state’s chief medical officer, said Mathematica’s methods were the
gold standard for scientific studies.

"To show no benefit
compared to nothing. That was striking," Calonge said. "These are tax
dollars that are going for no useful purpose, and it would not be
responsible for us to take those dollars."


See Rewire’s extensive coverage of the failures of abstinence-only programs here.

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