Roundup: Abstinence-Only and Abortion Absolutism on the Far Right

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Roundup: Abstinence-Only and Abortion Absolutism on the Far Right

Scott Swenson

Abstinence-only-until-marriage is in the news, as is contraception and choice. While some of the news may be intended to seduce moderates into supporting the most extremely conservative GOP platform and ticket in history, the truth of their failures for the past eight years is getting national attention.

Abstinence + Contraception = Comprehensive Sex Ed

The LA Times reports that while Sarah Palin said she supports abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and opposed "explicit sex-ed" on an Eagle Forum questionnaire to win conservative support, she later argued on a radio show it was okay to teach kids about condoms.  The LA Times reports that this equivocation left Focus on the Family’s James Dobson without comment, and Leslee Unruh, champion of abstinence-only programs confused but steadfast in her support of Palin:

Leslee Unruh, president of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse and
campaign manager of the Vote Yes for Life effort, said children must be
given a "clear and concise" message on the benefits of abstinence.

Asked about Palin’s statement, Unruh said, "I don’t think it’s clear. It seems disjointed to me."

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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Two days later, Unruh dismissed the comments as "old." 

"I support her in every way," she said. 

Other conservatives who have backed Palin, including James Dobson of Focus on the Family, declined to weigh in.

spokeswoman Maria Comella said the governor stands by her 2006
statement, supporting sex education that covers both abstinence and


This is a classic tactic of social conservatives, confusing the issue to send one signal to the far-right while still seeming reasonable to voters in the middle. Like Unruh, the moderating comments don’t matter to most social conservatives, because in the end they know Palin will support their far-right agenda if elected and simply says these things to confuse moderate voters.  If Sarah Palin agrees that contraception should be taught along side abstinence then she should make a clear statement supporting evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education and indicate that a McCain-Palin Administration will redirect tax dollars from failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  

Conversely, voters can just look at the Bush Administration to see what is likely to come from four more years of social conservatives running Health and Human Services and other agencies.


Failed Abstinence-Only Policies

An op-ed in the New York Times looks at failed ab-only policies:

In fact, a 2001 Unicef report said that the United States teenage
birthrate was higher than any other member of the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development. The U.S. tied Hungary for the
most abortions. This was in spite of the fact that girls in the U.S.
were not the most sexually active. Denmark held that title. But, its
teenage birthrate was one-sixth of ours, and its teenage abortion rate
was half of ours.  

If there is a shame here, it’s a national shame
— a failure of our puritanical society to accept and deal with the
facts. Teenagers have sex. How often and how safely depends on how much
knowledge and support they have. Crossing our fingers that they won’t
cross the line is not an intelligent strategy.  

To wit, our
ridiculous experiment in abstinence-only education seems to be winding
down with a study finding that it didn’t work. States are opting out of
it. Parents don’t like it either. According to a 2004 survey sponsored
by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard’s Kennedy School of
Government, 65 percent of parents of high school students said that
federal money “should be used to fund more comprehensive sex education
programs that include information on how to obtain and use condoms and
other contraceptives.”  

We need to take some bold steps beyond
the borders of our moralizing and discomfort and create a sex education
infrastructure that actually acknowledges reality and protects our
children from unwanted pregnancies, or worse.


Ab-Only v. Comprehensive Sex-Ed

From Gannett News Service a look at abstinence-only and comprehensive sexuality education, with social conservatives still supporting failed and expensive federal programs for abstinence-only-until-marriage as promoted by the Bush Administration:

Leslee Unruh, president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse in Sioux Falls,
S.D., is convinced telling kids not to have sex makes a difference and
that talking about condoms or birth control confuses them. "It
undermines the message," she said, comparing it to antidrug campaigns
that also dispense clean needles to addicts. "You have to give a clear,
concise message."

While all the evidence suggest a more comprehensive approach:

Kirby said most scientifically valid studies indicate that the best
approach is a comprehensive one — one that shoots for abstinence as a
goal but also teaches teens about contraception and uses role playing
and other engaging techniques.  

"We need to look at the results,"
Kirby said. "A comprehensive message is effective whereas the programs
that don’t do that are not even delaying sex."


GOP/Far-right Anti-Abortion Absolutism

Jacob Weisberg at Slate has a provocative piece about how the GOP can’t quite seem to find its way to the mainstream of American political thought because of its anti-abortion absolutism:

I’ve long expected the Republican Party to resolve this conflict in
its social vision by moderating its stance on abortion. Politically,
pro-life absolutism has never made much sense. A significant element
within the GOP—libertarians, economic conservatives, Barbara
Bush—favors leaving Roe v. Wade alone. A majority of the
country agrees. Meanwhile, the percentage of people on either side of
the debate who say they’ll vote only for a candidate who shares their
views has been steadily shrinking.
Since Lee Atwater’s heyday, pragmatic Republicans have been trying to
figure out how the party can become a "big tent," making room for a
pro-choice as well as a pro-life faction. Until recently, the
modernizers included John McCain himself, who in 1999 said, "Certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade,
which would then force women in America to [undergo] illegal and
dangerous operations." That was only one of several attempts on
McCain’s part to evolve his position. If Roe ever were
repealed, there would follow a fight in every state about whether to
ban abortion by statute. Politically, this could be the best thing to
happen to liberals since the New Deal. We got a taste of this dynamic
after the Supreme Court’s 1989 Webster decision, which allowed states to restrict abortion in certain ways. As my colleague William Saletan has argued, fear of Roe
being overturned contributed to Democratic electoral gains in 1989 and
1990 and to a wave of more conciliatory rhetoric from the GOP.  

renewed evangelical dominance of the GOP in the Bush years has pushed
McCain in the opposite direction—to the point of letting Phyllis
Schlafly revise the abortion plank in the party’s 2008 platform. The new version actually eliminates language from the 2004 edition rejecting "punitive action against women who have an abortion."
This "base" bias explains how McCain ended up with a wildly
underqualified running mate, instead of his preferred pro-choice veep
picks, Joe Lieberman and Tom Ridge.


It’s important to note again that the far-right is happy to have this confusion about their social policy agenda during the election, to seduce moderate pro-choice, pro-prevention voters, knowing that the social conservatives currently setting policy in the Bush Administration will still be there if this obfuscation works, and McCain-Palin are elected.