Kentucky Takes Ab-Only Funds as Health Indicators Fall

Catherine Morrison

Sexual health advocates are anticipating a paradigm shift away from abstinence-only, but still have work to do in states lagging behind in this process.

The Administration for Children
and Families, which oversees the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage
program, recently reported at least 23 states are no longer participating
in the program, with another two out at the end of Fiscal Year 2008.
In those states, advocates have convinced policymakers to reject funds
for unproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and instead put
their resources toward a more effective means of educating young people.
As we anticipate a paradigm shift away from the abstinence-only approach,
we still have to consider the states lagging behind this progress. And,
the reality is, the majority of states still opting to take these monies
are located in the South. This trend hasn’t gone unnoticed by

In fact, in Fiscal Year 2007,
nearly half, or almost $85 million of all abstinence-only-until-marriage
monies, were poured into southern states. With this in mind, we’ve
set out to investigate the use of abstinence-only-until-marriage funds
in southern states, first in Alabama, and now in our just released report
on Kentucky.

We found that some of the worst
abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula are being used throughout Kentucky,
and that a significant portion of state and federal funds are being
directed towards crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs).

As we looked into the programs
and curricula in Kentucky, the first and most startling thing we found
were the statistics on adolescent sexual health. The teen birth rate
is nearly 20 percent higher than the national average (49.2 per 1,000
young women ages 15-19 compared to 41.1 in the same age group).
Most states have experienced declines in teen birth rates, but in a
single year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports
Kentucky’s rate rose nearly 7 percent. The nationwide teen birth
rate increased by less than half that in the same year.

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The trend follows in HIV statistics.
The overall prevalence is low, but the disease impacts one community
disproportionately: African Americans make up only seven percent
of the total population of Kentucky but nearly 34 percent of new HIV
cases in the state, according to the CDC.

Kentucky is in need of effective
intervention to combat high teen pregnancy and HIV rates. One
place the state isn’t helping itself – by continuing to participate
in the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program, which brings
harmful money into the state. Since 1997, the state of Kentucky,
through the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and numerous community-based
organizations, has received over $16.9 million in abstinence-only-until-marriage
funds through the three funding streams. In Fiscal Year 2007 alone,
over $3 million went into these programs in Kentucky.

Where does this money end up?
In Kentucky, the state spreads it far and wide – to 16 local health
departments – 11 of which use fear and shame based curricula.
The state also provides Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage sub-grants
to more CPCs than any other state. CPCs are anti-choice establishments
that function to dissuade women with an unintended pregnancy from choosing
abortion. These centers often pose as family planning/reproductive health
clinics and claim to offer "abortion information and referrals."

In looking at the curricula
used by these health departments, CPCs, and other community-based organizations,
five central, and disturbing, themes emerged: advancing religious messages;
relying on messages of fear and shame; fostering gender myths and stereotypes;
promoting the questionable practice of virginity pledges; and providing

New Hope Center, Inc. is a
grantee that received nearly $850,000 in federal abstinence-only-until-marriage
funds from both the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program and
the Community Based Abstinence Program in Fiscal Year 2007. It
operates a youth-oriented website called "Wait For Sex," which contains
biased information and presents negative gender stereotypes. In the
"State It: Men Only" section, the website explains, "Let’s face
it. Waiting for sex is a real physical struggle for a guy…Pick your
girlfriend wisely. She might have a pretty face and a nice body but
those things don’t last. Find out before hand if she has the same
values as you. Why waste your time on someone who puts no value in her
future and protecting it?"

Such a presentation is detrimental
to all young people by limiting their options, influencing their behavior,
and coloring their expectations for future relationships.

Another startling example of
these funds at work is found in the Why kNOw curriculum, used
by many health departments. This curriculum likens sexual behavior
outside of marriage to clearly harmful or immoral behavior such as smoking,
drinking, using drugs, lying, stealing, and cheating. In a lesson entitled
"Let’s Go Fishing," the curriculum suggests that all of these
behaviors are enticing lures, "But if we take the bait, they could
lead to our ultimate destruction or death. It may not be a physical
death, but just as real — the death of a relationship, a friendship,
a dream or a goal."

Delaying sexual initiation
and increasing abstinence among young people in the state is an admirable
goal. But abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are not the answer.
Kentucky can create a brighter and healthier future for its youth by
funding a comprehensive approach to sexuality education. As a
first step, it must assess the evidence of what works best and end support
for abstinence-only-until-marriage programming as so many other states
have already done.

Click here to ask Governor Steve Beshear to join
25 states and reject harmful Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage

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