Obama Urges End to Abstinence-Only

Gwyneth Doland

Advocates for comprehensive sex-ed in New Mexico, which has the second-highest teen birth rate in the country, say they’re elated by the president’s proposal to cut abstinence-only funding.

ALBUQUERQUE — President Obama’s 2010 budget proposes an end to
abstinence-only sex education. If adopted by Congress, his plan would
eliminate nearly all federal funding for abstinence-only curricula and
replace it with a $110 million teen pregnancy prevention initiative
using “evidence-based” programming.

In addition, abstinence-only requirements would be removed from $50
million in funding that goes directly to the states. Advocates for
comprehensive sex-ed in New Mexico, which has the second-highest teen
birth rate in the country, say they’re elated by the president’s

Sarah was in ninth grade when she attended a mandatory 5-day health class on sex education in her public school. But when Sarah’s mother heard that she was being taught that condoms don’t work, abortion is baby-killing comparable to the deaths on 9/11, and that young people are at risk for suicide if they engage in pre-marital sex, she took action and rallied a community to stand up for their children. Watch parts two and three of the Abstinence Comes to Albuquerque documentary…

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“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Sylvia Ruiz of the New Mexico Teen Pregnancy Coalition said Thursday. “What it means for New Mexico is absolute light at the end of a very dark tunnel.”

Abstinence-only programs simply don’t work, Ruiz said. “So if this
means communities will be able to access funding to implement
evidence-based services, then this is a very good day for New Mexico.”

Johnny Wilson of Planned Parenthood of New Mexico
said he was surprised that Obama’s proposal cut abstinence-only
programs completely. He figured that the president would be reluctant
to anger conservatives who have supported the programs.

“That the Obama administration is looking at this honestly … gives
me huge amounts of confidence,” Wilson said. “I’m really quite
impressed. It’s bold. Pissing off the right wing is something we’ve all
learned to be afraid of,” Wilson said.

But one major supporter of abstinence-only programs in New Mexico said she wasn’t at all surprised by Obama’s move.

“I anticipated that he would do that,” said Laurel Edenburn of the New Mexico Abstinence Education Coalition. “For several months now we’ve been expecting that he would probably try to eliminate it from the budget.”

But taking away federal funding will not get rid of abstinence-only programs, she said.

“There were abstinence programs in the nation and in New Mexico
before there was ever any federal money. And there is always the option
for the programs in New Mexico to be privately funded. … So I don’t
think it’s going to go away in New Mexico,” Edenburn said.

In Washington, where members of New Mexico’s congressional
delegation were poring over the details of the budget, Sen. Jeff
Bingaman (D-NM) said he stands behind the president’s proposal.

“I believe that students benefit from comprehensive sex education
programs. President Obama’s proposal to create a competitive grant
program that supports a variety of evidence-based initiatives is
something I support,” Bingaman said, referring to the new grants that
will replace Bush-era Community-Based Abstinence Education grants.

The money that had funded those grants, known as CBAE, makes up one part of the funding in the new budget. The other part is known as Title V and is delivered directly to states, tribes and territories.

But New Mexico is one of dozens of states that has rejected Title V funding
for abstinence-only-until-marriage programming. That funding is set to
expire this year, and Obama’s plan appears to be to allow the program
to expire, while asking that a similar amount of money be used for
comprehensive sex-ed programs.

In explaining his decision not to accept Title V money for 2008,
around $500,000, New Mexico Secretary of Health Alfredo Vigil cited a government-sponsored study showing that the programs didn’t work.

And on Thursday, he again criticized abstinence-only programs for
withholding vital information, saying, “As a doctor, a scientist, a
father and a grandfather, I don’t know of any problem that’s made
better by ignorance.”

Edenburn strongly opposed the state’s decision to reject Title V
funds and said the requirement for “evidence-based” programming is a
“red herring.”

“They keep … claiming that all the abstinence programs [don’t have]
documentation for anything they teach. It’s totally false. There are
many, many encouraging results,” Edenburn said.

On Thursday, Dr. Vigil said he was optimistic about the Obama
administration’s move and that the department would evaluate the plan
as it emerges from Congress.

“We’ll see what is ultimately offered, and under the assumption that
… it doesn’t come with strings that say you have to withhold critical
information, then our general philosophy is to go after every dollar
available to us,” Vigil said.

“We basically know the formula for reducing teen pregnancy,” Vigil
said. “We’ve got superb programs and services throughout the state that
try to do with pennies what they should be doing with dollars. … If we
got our hands on more money, we would funnel it into those kind of
interventions that already exist.”

Groups like Planned Parenthood, who had never applied for sex-ed
grants under the CBAE program, could now see increased funding for
comprehensive sex-ed programs.

“We were eligible for CBAE grants before but we wouldn’t even apply
because we couldn’t agree to the rules,” Wilson says. “There was a lot
of money to be had, and I wish we could have accessed some of it, but
we would have had to create irresponsible programming. We weren’t
willing to do that.”

The budget now heads to Congress, where there could be substantial
changes made. Although support for abstinence-only programs has been
strongest among Republicans, many Democrats have voted for them.

Meanwhile, Edenburn is confident that supporters of abstinence-only programs will continue to offer them.

“It’s a difference of philosophy. And abstinence is the healthiest choice,” she said.

For more details on the budget, see the White House Office of Management and Budget’s Web site.

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