Pennsylvania’s Rendell Flip-Flopping on Ab-Only?

William Smith

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell may soon re-enroll the state in the federal Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program. This decision would represent the prioritizing of short term political gain over the long term health of Pennsylvania's young people.

It is no secret in Pennsylvania that
Governor Ed Rendell may soon re-enroll the commonwealth
in the federal Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program. Unquestionably, this decision
would be a step backward for Pennsylvania and
would represent the prioritizing of short term political gain over the long
term health of Pennsylvania’s
young people.

As recently as Fiscal Year 2003, only one state, California, did not accept Title V
abstinence-only-until-marriage funding. Pennsylvania
refused the funds the next year, becoming one of the first states to actually turn back the money. And over the past
years, more and more states have come to realize that
abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are not the best way to educate their
young people. By the beginning of 2007, nine states had decided that they would opt
out of the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program. Now, halfway
through 2008, that number has skyrocketed to 25.

Thanks to mounting evidence against
abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, the overly restrictive requirements
that come with receiving funding, and the bureaucratic nightmare of applying
for the funds while coordinating the state and federal funding cycles and
Fiscal Years, forward-thinking governors and
states are taking the opportunity to mitigate the damage that has been done by
these programs.

Numerous studies over the past year and a half have
shown that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs don’t work. An
April 2007 study commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services,
and conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. shows that these programs
have no positive effect on the sexual behavior of youths. At the same
time, Dr. Douglas
Kirby, a leading sex researcher, found that comprehensive sex education
programs hold the most promise for lowering the rates of teen pregnancy and

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Proponents of the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry will often
cry poverty whenever their funding is in jeopardy. In Pennsylvania, this is far from the truth. Even without any
Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funds, Pennsylvania still received the fifth-most abstinence-only money of any state. How? Title V
abstinence-only-until-marriage funding is only one of three federal
abstinence-related funding streams. In fact, the Community Based Abstinence
Education (CBAE) grants make up the vast majority of federal abstinence-only-until-marriage
dollars. Unlike Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage grants, CBAE grants go
directly to organizations in the state, and are not regulated by the state

The majority of the organizations that receive abstinence-only-until-marriage
funds have noticeable right-wing leanings. These groups are often not
satisfied with spreading their fear-based misinformation in schools, but also
have broader political goals that include opposing many of the proposals,
plans, and values that Governor Rendell supports. Why would the
Governor hand an undeserved windfall to organizations that fight
tooth-and-nail against his agenda at every turn and work feverishly to elect
his opponents?

Some facts about teen sexual health in Pennsylvania to consider:

  • The only states that
    currently receive more federal abstinence-only-until-marriage money than Pennsylvania are Texas,
    New York, Florida,
    and Georgia.
  • In 2007, 41% of
    female high school students and 50% of male high school students in
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania reported being currently sexually active
    (defined as having had sexual intercourse in the three months prior to the
    survey) compared to 36% of female high school students and 34% of male
    high school students nationwide.
  • In 2007, 84% of high
    school students in Philadelphia,
    Pennsylvania reported having
    been taught about HIV/AIDS in school compared to 90% of high school
    students nationwide.
  • According to the
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the teen birth rate in Pennsylvania went
    up 3.2 percent between 2005 and 2006, corresponding to the nationwide


With the high profile role that Governor Rendell has been playing in
national politics recently, he may have forgotten that his first duty is to the
health and safety of the people of Pennsylvania.
Like other Americans across the country, Pennsylvanians are sick and tired of
politics and ideology being put before scientific evidence, common sense and
basic mainstream American values. This is especially the case when the health
of our young people is concerned. Governor Rendell needs to take this
opportunity, while he is in the national spotlight, to show that he is willing
to do the right thing and continue to reject failed Title V
abstinence-only-until-marriage funding.

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