Michigan Says Yes to $1.4 Million for Abstinence-Only

Todd Heywood

The Michigan Department of Community Health recently announced $1.4 million for abstinence-only programs, even though numerous studies have shown the abstinence-only model does not work.

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) on Wednesday
announced $1.4 million in grants for nine groups for abstinence-only programs. The announcement is not sitting well with many in
the sexual health community, particularly because numerous studies have
shown the abstinence-only model appears not to work. 

The grant programs are directed at youth ages 12-18 and parents of
youth in that age group. Of the money, $875,000 will go to community
groups and organizations, while an additional $542,000 will fund
technical staffing and an abstinence-only public awareness campaign.
Michigan spends $700,000 a year on other sexual health education

“The Michigan Abstinence Program is geared to promote abstinence
from sexual activity and other related risky behaviors,” said MDCH
Director Janet Olszewski in a press release. “This funding will further
help our communities and the abstinence program guide our youth away
from risky activity.”

The problem, activists say, is abstinence-only programs don’t
work. According to numerous studies, abstinence only, which is an
education model that teaches young people to abstain from sexual
behavior, but not how to prevent sexually transmitted infections or
unplanned pregnancies, does not work.

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A September 2008 study in The Journal of Sexuality Research and Social Policy
found that the programs do not delay the onset of sexual activity by
teenagers. The study questioned whether the federal government should
be spending $1.5 billion annually on them. The Guttmacher Institute has
a summary.

And a study by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health, released in late December, shows that youth who take chastity pledges
and partake of abstinence-only programs will start sexual activity at
the same time as their religious and conservative peers, only they are
much less likely to engage in behavior to protect from unplanned
pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections.

“What we know is that there is study after study that shows this
stuff (abstinence-only) doesn’t work,” said Lori Lammerand, CEO of
Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan.

“Well, I disagree with you that studies show that it
(abstinence-only) doesn’t work,” said MDCH spokesperson James
McCurtis when asked about the studies. “I challenge you to cite one
study that shows that.”

When presented with a study from the Guttmacher Institute web site,
McCurtis responded, “I am not going to amend my previous comments.
Thank you for the study.”

Michigan is one of 25 states that continue to receive and pursue the
Title V grant money from the federal government. The other 25 states
have rejected the money, citing studies that show abstinence-only programs do not work.

“We pursue this money from the federal government because these
community groups are following the federal guidelines and they are
doing a good job running the program,” McCurtis said in an e-mail.

“You have to determine if it is a good program or not, and it’s
not,” counters Planned Parenthood’s Lammerand. “You do not see a
decrease in teen sexual activity with abstinence-only education

Lammerand said the $1.4 million could be better spent giving 6,000
Michigan residents access to family planning services. “What works is
comprehensive sex ed with an abstinence message for those with whom it
works,” Lammerand said.

The money will go to the following groups: Catholic Charities West
Michigan in Grand Rapids; Jackson County Health Department; District
Health Department #2 in Clinton, Gratiot and Montcalm counties;
District Health Department #4 in Alpena, Cheboygan, Montmorency and
Presque Isle counties; South Side Community Coalition in Lansing; St.
John Investment Corporation in Detroit; The Yuinon, Inc., in Detroit;
the Tuscola Intermediate School District and Wedgwood Christian
Services in Grand Rapids.

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