Ab-Only Programs: What Part of “They Don’t Work” Is Hard to Understand?

Julia Kaye

Over 80 percent of ab-only curricula provides misleading, medically inaccurate information about contraception and sex, yet the Senate finance committee voted to fund these programs. What part of "they don't work" is hard to understand?

This article originally appeared on the website of the National Women’s Law Center.

Tuesday night, in a “hat-tip” to common-sense and efficacy, the Senate
Finance Committee approved an amendment introduced by Chairman Baucus
to provide funding for evidence-based comprehensive sex education. The
Chairman introduced his amendment as an alternative to an amendment
introduced by Senator Hatch, which would restore $50 million in annual
funding for abstinence-only programs through 2014. The Chairman and his
staff explained that abstinence-only programs would still be eligible
for the new pot of teen pregnancy prevention money — they simply had to
prove, like any other pregnancy prevention program, that the program is
effective and that the information it provides is medically-accurate
and complete. Fair, no?

The Committee didn’t think so. Fearing, I suppose, that
abstinence-only programs would not meet the standards for the new
pregnancy prevention funding and loathe, it seems, to end the dedicated
funding stream to ab-only programs (which have been demonstrated
ineffective by study after study  after studies), the Committee also approved Senator Hatch’s amendment (in a 12-11 vote).

As we’ve previously discussed, over 80 percent of
abstinence-only curricula provide information about contraception and
other reproductive health services that is medically inaccurate,
exaggerated, and misleading, such as grossly exaggerated failure rates
for condoms, false information about the risks of abortion, and
subjective, moral judgments treated as scientific fact. The
abstinence-only curriculum, Me, My World, My Future (1998), used by eight federal grantees, refers to a 43 day-old fetus as a “thinking person.” Why kNOw (2002), a curriculum used by seven grantees, asks rhetorically “could condoms be just another stupid idea?”

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Some federally funded abstinence-only programs also promote stereotypes about gender and relationships. WAIT Training,
a curriculum used by nine former federal grantees, lists “Financial
Support” as one of the “5 Major Needs of Women,” and “Domestic Support”
as one of the “5 Major Needs of Men.” Moreover, all abstinence-only
programs discriminate against GLBTQ teens,
and all programs stigmatize adolescents without two, heterosexual,
married parents, and youths who do not foresee themselves one day
living in a traditional family structure.

Baucus’ common-sense amendment is in line with
President Obama’s 2010 budget proposal, which would phase out
abstinence-only funding in favor of comprehensive sex education
programs. The amendment would provide $50 million annually to states
for evidence-based, medically accurate and age-appropriate programs to
educate adolescents on both abstinence and contraception, as well as at
least three “adulthood preparation subjects,” such as healthy
relationships and financial literacy. The amendment also provides an
additional $25 million for innovative teen pregnancy prevention
strategies, allotments to tribes, and research, evaluation and
technical assistance.

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