Why Won’t Illinois Turn Down Abstinence-Only Money?

William Smith

Why hasn't Illinois turned down Title V abstinence-only money? Maybe because Illinois not only receives one of the largest chunks of abstinence-only funds, but it hosts two of the largest providers of the curricula.

Recently, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of
the United States (SIECUS) contacted both Governor Blagojevich and the
Secretary of the Department of Human Services, Carol Adams, to urge Illinois to
join the national tide moving across the country where states are telling
Washington "no thank you" when it comes to taking taxpayer money to run failed
abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. To date, 25 states have turned down
the money, citing the clear and compelling evidence that shows these programs
do not work.

Illinois
is becoming an island unto itself in promoting these extreme programs. The
neighboring states of Iowa, Minnesota
and Wisconsin
are just a few of the principled states siding with every major public health
entity in this country in closing down these programs. Sadly, Illinois persists. In Fiscal Year 2008, the
state of Illinois
accepted over $1.8 million in abstinence-only-until-marriage funds through a
federal funding stream known as Title V. So the question is:  Why?

Perhaps the state’s decision to continue accepting Title V
abstinence-only-until-marriage funding is based on the private interests of
certain people involved in the movement in Illinois. Not only does Illinois receive one of the largest chunks
of abstinence-only-until-marriage funds, but it hosts two of the largest
providers of the curricula which seep into schools, organizations, and
after-school programs nationwide. For example, Scott Phelps, who got his start
in anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers in the Chicagoland area, is the founder
of the Abstinence and Education Marriage Partnership in Wheeling, and co-author of three of the most
popular abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula, Game Plan, Aspire, and Navigator

Project Reality, based in Glenview
and one of the oldest abstinence-only-until-marriage industry leaders
nationwide, distributes Phelps’s fear- and shame-based Game Plan curriculum. Illinois
supplied Project Reality $81,560 in Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage
sub-grant funding in Fiscal Year 2008. But, starting on December 15, 2008,
Project Reality will close its doors and merge with Phelps’s group, marking an
important combination of the resources and people of the two largest
abstinence-only-until-marriage providers in the state. Phelps will continue to
be the leader of the Abstinence and Education Marriage Partnership.      

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Despite his extreme views, Phelps seems to have unabated
access to the Illinois Department of Human Services, the agency which is
responsible for the distribution of Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage
funds. Specifically, Anna Maria Accove, the Title V
abstinence-only-until-marriage coordinator for Illinois,
has apparently kept Phelps updated on SIECUS’ research and requests for
information, as documented on the Parents for Truth Illinois
page
. (SIECUS regularly contacts all coordinators in every state).  Why is a state employee disclosing this
information to a grantee if not to assist that grantee in continuing to feed at
the trough?  Whatever the case, it is
unethical at best.

In addition to strong ties with two of the largest
abstinence-only-until-marriage industry leaders in the country, Phelps also
helped found the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA), the lobbying
arm of the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry.  Among other activities, the NAEA propagates
misinformation campaigns about the content and effectiveness of comprehensive
sexuality education programs.

Make no mistake, Game
Plan
represents the extreme and dangerous approach that has left our young
people vulnerable to making poor decisions. 
For example, Game Plan
teaches: "Even more widespread than
disease are the emotional scarring and deep wounds that come out of broken
relationships. No matter how strong a condom is, it won’t protect you from a
broken heart" (p. 36).  Another example
directly from the curriculum reads, "The only safe sex is in a marriage
relationship where a man and a woman are faithful to each other for life" (p.
38).

The problem, of course, is that even though we can encourage
teens to wait to have sex, we have to make sure we send messages that don’t
undermine their ability to make good, responsible decisions when they do have
sex.  These examples from Game Plan do just the opposite; they
persuade young people that there is no other option but to have sex in a
marriage between two heterosexual people. Perhaps a worthwhile goal, but
unfortunately, one that doesn’t pan out in reality.  In the third century, Saint Jerome wrote endless letters to women
about how to keep their virginity and this is the same mantra now funded with
tax dollars.

For her own part, Illinois’
Secretary of Human Services, Carol Adams, replied to SIECUS’ questioning about Illinois’ dogged support
of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs by writing:

"The Department of
Human Services supports a myriad of services designed to address the goals of
reducing teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.  The Abstinence Education Program is part of
the continuum of services designed to address these goals.  We are also supportive because the Abstinence
Education Program addresses youth development through the promotion of life
skill development." 

 

The problem? 
Secretary Adams is wrong on the facts. 
Research shows that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs do not offer
any real "life development" skills. The U.S. Department of Health and Human
Service’s own study of federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs
conducted by Mathematica
showed no delay in sexual initiation, reduction in sexual partners, or improved
used of contraception.

Dr. Adams continues, "Many
communities are in favor of this approach."

There are surely some
individuals in support of these programs–but every major public health,
medical, and education entity supports a comprehensive approach to sex
education: the American Medical Association, American Public Health
Association, The Society for Adolescent Medicine, and the National Education
Association are just a few. Statewide polling shows that over 83 percent of Illinois voters and 92 percent of Illinois sex education teachers believe that
whether or not young people are sexually active, they should be given accurate
information about birth control and condoms according to research from the Illinois Campaign for
Responsible Sex Education
.

In addition to funding Project Reality with Title V
abstinence-only-until-marriage dollars, Secretary Adams’ department funds four
crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs)–anti-choice establishments that typically advertise
as providing medical services and then use anti-abortion propaganda,
misinformation, and fear and shame tactics to dissuade women facing unintended
pregnancy from exercising their right to choose. CPCs fail to offer young
people any real information to make healthy decisions-yet the Secretary awarded
nearly $250,000 towards these establishments in Fiscal Year 2008 alone. 

If the goal is to reduce teen pregnancies and STDs in
Illinois, the state must follow the national trend–not buck it–and halt taxpayer
funding for extreme abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Such action will provide
additional relief to the rest of the country and help end the gravy train for
one of the most extreme providers nationwide, Project Reality. According to
SIECUS’ State Profile research, the two curricula sold by Project Reality are
used in at least 15 states. By supplying funds for Project Reality, Secretary
Adams is not only putting Illinois
youth at risk, but financially backing one of the worst abstinence-only-until-marriage
curricula nationwide. 

Finally, Secretary Adams and Governor Blagojevich need to
know that in every instance, the 25 states that have ended these extreme
programs have done so without any political fallout whatsoever. Our leaders
should lead. But they are more likely to do so when it is the safer option
politically. Ending Illinois’
subsidy of the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry is the politically safe
option. Let’s get it done.

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