Analysis Sexual Health

Family Makes Millions Taking in Federal Funds for Failed Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs

Martha Kempner

During the Bush Administration, the official Hey Day of the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry, Heritage Community Services, a South Carolina organization thrived on $12 million of federal funding. Now, with the Obama administration placing its curriculum on the list of evidence-based programs, its poised to do so again. 

See all our coverage of Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education here.

This week Rewire has been reporting on the Obama administration’s decision to add Heritage Keepers, an abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum, to its list of evidence-based programs.  As a number of my colleagues pointed out in an earlier article this decision seems to be based solely on unpublished research that has already been declared flawed.  And, as I pointed out in an article detailing the content of Heritage Keepers the program is more marriage promotion than sexuality education and was definitely one of the curricula that sexuality educators were eager to see disappear as the funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs dried up. Truth be told, though, many of us were also eager to see the creator of the programs, Heritage Community Services—an organization that went from tiny to wealthy almost exclusively on taxpayer’s money—disappear as well. 

Heritage Community Services was founded in 1995 by Anne Badgley as an adjunct organization to the Lowcountry Crisis Pregnancy Center which she had founded in 1986. Today, the two groups are separate non-profits but they continue to share the same office and some staff members. Like most crisis pregnancy centers,  Lowcountry exists to convince women facing an unplanned pregnancy not to choose abortion. The organization’s website explains:

Because LPC does not profit from your decisions, we do not provide or refer for abortion, and we do not sell or refer for birth control.”  

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The organization also discusses the “emotional problems that women can expect after an abortion:

“After having an abortion, women may develop the following symptoms of guilt, grief, anger, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders and difficulty bonding with their partner or child.”

As well as the “spiritual ones:

“While we all have different understandings of God, there is a spiritual aspect of abortion to be considered. You may have certain questions about doing the right thing, while wondering about your future, why you exist, and what the future may be for the baby growing inside of you. How do you view the world? If you have an abortion, how will you feel in the future when you do decide to have a baby? Did you know that God has a plan for every person’s life, including yours and your baby’s? These are important questions to think about. Remember, you are NEVER alone!”

Anne Badgley also has close ties with other crisis pregnancy centers and serves on the National CareNet Centers for Tomorrow Advisory Board. According to its website, CareNet is a “Christian ministry assisting and promoting the evangelistic, pro-life work of pregnancy centers in North America .”

Heritage Community Services was founded with the mission “to strengthen the character of America’s adolescents and our communities one individual, one family, and one institution at a time.”  The organization’s website explains that it is mostly concerned with the well-being of children

“It is about their parents having a healthy relationship. It is about the family structures they belong to. It is about the behaviors they will adopt that will enable them to first get an education, then get a job, then get married, and, then, start their own families. It is about healthy family formation and maintenance.”

The organization explains that it uses the Heritage MethodSM which it :

“…a systemic approach that through the use of our programs is designed to saturate whole communities with effective resources to help young people develop good character, abstain from risky behaviors, and prepare for marriage and family life.”

The Money and the Power

In 1999, when the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry was still in its infancy, Heritage Community Services was a small organization with a budget of $50,000 but Badgelya “politically connected GOP activist.” So much so that George W. Bush swung by Heritage Community Services on his first presidential campaign stop in South Carolina. Bush, who pioneered abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in his home of Texas, told the crowd: “The contraceptive message sends a contradictory message. It tends to undermine the message of abstinence.” He promised that as President he would support these types of programs and boost federal funding.  After the workshop, Bush met with Badgley, who“organized a meeting for Bush with local conservative leaders and put her Roladex at his disposal.”  She reported: “I could see he was very sincere, and I worked hard to get him elected.” 

>A good move on Badgely’s part as Bush made good on his promise to support her brand of education; funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs increased 200 percent during the first six years of the Bush administration.  Badgely and her organization benefited immensely from this money.

The first large federal funding stream for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, known as Title V, consisted of $50 million which was given out to states in the form of block grants.  States that chose to accept the money were required to match every four federal dollars with three state-raised dollars and then had the responsibility to spend the money on abstinence-only programs or distribute it to community-based organizations that would then run such programs. Most states put out a request for proposals and asked organizations to apply for the money through a competitive process that, at least theoretically, rewarded those agencies that were most qualified and could offer the best programming. 

Not so in South Carolina.  Instead, the governor awarded Heritage Community Services the state’s entire Title V sum without a competitive bidding process. In later years, after some outcry, there was a bidding process and interestingly Heritage Community Services continued to be the sole recipient of the state’s Title V money.  In Fiscal Year 2003 for example, $130,000 of the state’s Title V money was used for staff and administrative costs at the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the rest, $681,000, was given to Heritage Community Services.  (In fairness this started before Bush took office and probably had more to do with Badgely’s relationship to the governor, whose office controlled the money, than to the future President.)

Her relationship with Bush was once again on display in 2002 whento South Carolina “and met with Badgley and staff from Heritage Community Services and the Lowcountry Crisis Pregnancy Center to discuss Heritage’s abstinence only-until-marriage  programming.” The President was accompanied by his Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary, Tommy Thompson, who was in charge of the administration’s abstinence-only-until-marriage programs as well as marriage promotion programs.   

During Bush’s reign in office, Heritage Community Services continued to benefit financially from the boon in abstinence-only funding.  Between Fiscal Years 2003 and 20010 the organization received more than $4.3 million in Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding from the state of South Carolina., $4.7 million in funding from the federal government’s Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) grants, and more than $2 million dollars from the federal funding under the Adolescent and Family Life Act.  According to SIECUS’ state profiles:  “In all, the organization has received nearly $12 million in federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs over the past ten years.”  This number reaches over 18 million when you add state money to the tally. 

Not surprisingly, over the years there has been some controversy over the large sums of money the organization has received and questions about whether Badgely and her family have personally profited from this glut of taxpayer dollars. At least four members of her family have been compensated for their work with Heritage Community Services and Heritage Keepers including Anne, her husband Gordon, their daughter Sally Badgely Raymond, and her husband Jerry Raymond.  A 2007 article in The Nation explains that Anne and Gordon set up Badgley Enterprises which markets and sells Heritage Keepers.  The article explains:

“While Heritage’s IRS 990s are sketchy and marked by vague expenses, even a student loan repayment, they clearly show that the Badgleys pocketed $174,201 from the taxpayer-funded nonprofit by buying the curriculum from their own private company.”

That’s right, Heritage Community Services uses federal and state funds to buy copies of its own program from a private company that is wholly owned by the Badgley family.

Beyond the South Carolina Borders

While we can only speculate what the funding allowed the Badgely family to do, we do know that it allowed Heritage Community Services and its message to expand beyond its home state of South Carolina.At one point the organization boasted that its materials were being used in 22 counties in South Carolina as well as schools in Augusta, GA; Lexington, KY; Florida; Maine; Massachusetts; North Carolina; Rhode Island; and the Caribbean. It added that additional communities in Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Africa were interested in using its programs. 

It turned out, however, that its methods and materials were not welcome everywhere. In 2004, an affiliate calling itself Heritage of Rhode Island became the sole organization in that state to receive CBAE funding when it was rewarded a grant of $400,260.  A brochure explained that the affiliate used two programs, Heritage Keepers and a second called Right Time, Right Place which it described as:

 “a character-based family-life and sexuality program designed to fit into a school’s already existing curriculum. The program promotes abstinence as the best choice for adolescents when it comes to sexual activity.” 

The affiliate stated that its goal was to provide abstinence education to 2,000 students in Rhode Island’s public and private schools. 

Its seems, however, that some schools were not happy to have them—even though the programs were free.  The Heritage program, for example, was kicked out of the Pawtucket schools after parents complained. Then, in 2006, the Commissioner of Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) sent a letter “to all public school superintendents notifying them that Heritage of Rhode Island had not been approved for in-school usage and, if used in public schools, could be violating state law.” Though not technically a ban on using these programs in the public schools the letter went on to say: 

 “RIDE is not working with Heritage of Rhode Island, nor does RIDE endorse its curriculum as meeting state standards. Heritage of Rhode Island has been marketing at least one sex-education curriculum despite the fact that this program is not approved by the HIV/AIDS Material Review Panel at RIDE.”  

Heritage materials were actually banned from schools in Maine.  In 2005, the state refused to allow Heritage of Maine to conduct its programs in Maine public schools because its curricula did not meet the comprehensive health education requirements for the state.  Maine has long been committed to providing high quality sexuality education along with access to family planning services, and many in the state credit this commitment with bringing down the state’s high teen pregnancy rates which declined dramatically even while they were peaking elsewhere. (Between 1980 and 1996, the pregnancy rate for young women 15 to 19 years of age in Maine decreased by 33 percent. The national peak was in 1991.) Despite not being welcome in the state’s public schools, Heritage of Maine (which changed its name to Maine Character Resources) continued to encourage “parents, community groups, and schools to invite the organization in. Its website urges interested individuals to ‘coordinate with other parents and co-sign a letter of request asking to bring Heritage Keepers’ authentic abstinence program to your school.’”

The More Thing Change

Despite its chilly reception in states like Maine and Rhode Island (states, might I add, that have good histories when it comes to supporting real sex education efforts), Heritage Community Services and Heritage Keepers  seem to have survived the pendulum swing away from abstinence-only-until marriage programs.  In Fiscal Year 2010, when much of the federal money was gone, the organization still managed to bring in $450,000 in Title V funding. 

And now, despite the fact that we have an administration that is supposedly supportive of a more comprehensive approach to preventing teen pregnancy and STDs, Heritage Community Services once again finds itself in a place of privilege. One that may even come with federal money. 

You see the list that Heritage Keepers was added to this week is worth at least $75 million. That is the amount of Tier 1 funding under the administration’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative. Tier 1 funding must be used to replicated one of the now 31 programs on this list “with fidelity.” That means that organizations who receive this funding choose a program to replicate and dedicate at least some of the money they get to buying the program’s written materials and receiving training from the organization that created or distributes the program. 

The money won’t necessarily start rolling in to Heritage Community Services (or, perhaps, Badgely Enterprises) quite yet as all of the TTPI money is currently committed in existing five-year cooperative agreements. That said, if any more money becomes available, the Badgelys could certainly see some of it. 

Moreover, this list serves as a federal seal of approval for teen pregnancy-prevention programs in particular meaning that organizations across the country who receive other federal funding, state funds, or private money to conduct prevention programs often turn to this list to decide which curriculum they should purchase or who they should hire to train their staff.

It was one thing when George W. Bush put Heritage Community Services front-and-center in his efforts to tell the youth of America to stay pure until their wedding night.  He shared the organization’s ideologies and was expected to throw political bone to those conservatives, like Anne Badgely, who helped get him elected. But to see Heritage Keepers— a blatantly sexist marriage promotion program for eighth graders — given a place of honor under our current administration is unconscionable.

Analysis Abortion

‘Pro-Life’ Pence Transfers Money Intended for Vulnerable Households to Anti-Choice Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Jenn Stanley

Donald Trump's running mate has said that "life is winning in Indiana"—and the biggest winner is probably a chain of crisis pregnancy centers that landed a $3.5 million contract in funds originally intended for poor Hoosiers.

Much has been made of Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s record on LGBTQ issues. In 2000, when he was running for U.S. representative, Pence wrote that “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexual’s [sic] as a ‘discreet and insular minority’ [sic] entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” He also said that funds meant to help people living with HIV or AIDS should no longer be given to organizations that provide HIV prevention services because they “celebrate and encourage” homosexual activity. Instead, he proposed redirecting those funds to anti-LGBTQ “conversion therapy” programs, which have been widely discredited by the medical community as being ineffective and dangerous.

Under Pence, ideology has replaced evidence in many areas of public life. In fact, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has just hired a running mate who, in the past year, has reallocated millions of dollars in public funds intended to provide food and health care for needy families to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.

Gov. Pence, who declined multiple requests for an interview with Rewire, has been outspoken about his anti-choice agenda. Currently, Indiana law requires people seeking abortions to receive in-person “counseling” and written information from a physician or other health-care provider 18 hours before the abortion begins. And thanks, in part, to other restrictive laws making it more difficult for clinics to operate, there are currently six abortion providers in Indiana, and none in the northern part of the state. Only four of Indiana’s 92 counties have an abortion provider. All this means that many people in need of abortion care are forced to take significant time off work, arrange child care, and possibly pay for a place to stay overnight in order to obtain it.

This environment is why a contract quietly signed by Pence last fall with the crisis pregnancy center umbrella organization Real Alternatives is so potentially dangerous for Indiana residents seeking abortion: State-subsidized crisis pregnancy centers not only don’t provide abortion but seek to persuade people out of seeking abortion, thus limiting their options.

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“Indiana is committed to the health, safety, and wellbeing [sic] of Hoosier families, women, and children,” reads the first line of the contract between the Indiana State Department of Health and Real Alternatives. The contract, which began on October 1, 2015, allocates $3.5 million over the course of a year for Real Alternatives to use to fund crisis pregnancy centers throughout the state.

Where Funding Comes From

The money for the Real Alternatives contract comes from Indiana’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, a federally funded, state-run program meant to support the most vulnerable households with children. The program was created by the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act signed by former President Bill Clinton. It changed welfare from a federal program that gave money directly to needy families to one that gave money, and a lot of flexibility with how to use it, to the states.

This TANF block grant is supposed to provide low-income families a monthly cash stipend that can be used for rent, child care, and food. But states have wide discretion over these funds: In general, they must use the money to serve families with children, but they can also fund programs meant, for example, to promote marriage. They can also make changes to the requirements for fund eligibility.

As of 2012, to be eligible for cash assistance in Indiana, a household’s maximum monthly earnings could not exceed $377, the fourth-lowest level of qualification of all 50 states, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Indiana’s program also has some of the lowest maximum payouts to recipients in the country.

Part of this is due to a 2011 work requirement that stripped eligibility from many families. Under the new work requirement, a parent or caretaker receiving assistance needs to be “engaged in work once the State determines the parent or caretaker is ready to engage in work,” or after 24 months of receiving benefits. The maximum time allowed federally for a family to receive assistance is 60 months.

“There was a TANF policy change effective November 2011 that required an up-front job search to be completed at the point of application before we would proceed in authorizing TANF benefits,” Jim Gavin, a spokesman for the state’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), told Rewire. “Most [applicants] did not complete the required job search and thus applications were denied.”

Unspent money from the block grant can be carried over to following years. Indiana receives an annual block grant of $206,799,109, but the state hasn’t been using all of it thanks to those low payouts and strict eligibility requirements. The budget for the Real Alternatives contract comes from these carry-over funds.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF is explicitly meant to clothe and feed children, or to create programs that help prevent “non-marital childbearing,” and Indiana’s contract with Real Alternatives does neither. The contract stipulates that Real Alternatives and its subcontractors must “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.” The funds, the contract says, cannot be used for organizations that will refer clients to abortion providers or promote contraceptives as a way to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Parties involved in the contract defended it to Rewire by saying they provide material goods to expecting and new parents, but Rewire obtained documents that showed a much different reality.

Real Alternatives is an anti-choice organization run by Kevin Bagatta, a Pennsylvania lawyer who has no known professional experience with medical or mental health services. It helps open, finance, and refer clients to crisis pregnancy centers. The program started in Pennsylvania, where it received a $30 million, five-year grant to support a network of 40 subcontracting crisis pregnancy centers. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale called for an audit of the organization between June 2012 and June 2015 after hearing reports of mismanaged funds, and found $485,000 in inappropriate billing. According to the audit, Real Alternatives would not permit DHS to review how the organization used those funds. However, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in April that at least some of the money appears to have been designated for programs outside the state.

Real Alternatives also received an $800,000 contract in Michigan, which inspired Gov. Pence to fund a $1 million yearlong pilot program in northern Indiana in the fall of 2014.

“The widespread success [of the pilot program] and large demand for these services led to the statewide expansion of the program,” reads the current $3.5 million contract. It is unclear what measures the state used to define “success.”


“Every Other Baby … Starts With Women’s Care Center”

Real Alternatives has 18 subcontracting centers in Indiana; 15 of them are owned by Women’s Care Center, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers. According to its website, Women’s Care Center serves 25,000 women annually in 23 centers throughout Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Women’s Care Centers in Indiana received 18 percent of their operating budget from state’s Real Alternatives program during the pilot year, October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015, which were mostly reimbursements for counseling and classes throughout pregnancy, rather than goods and services for new parents.

In fact, instead of the dispensation of diapers and food, “the primary purpose of the [Real Alternatives] program is to provide core services consisting of information, sharing education, and counseling that promotes childbirth and assists pregnant women in their decision regarding adoption or parenting,” the most recent contract reads.

The program’s reimbursement system prioritizes these anti-choice classes and counseling sessions: The more they bill for, the more likely they are to get more funding and thus open more clinics.

“This performance driven [sic] reimbursement system rewards vendor service providers who take their program reimbursement and reinvest in their services by opening more centers and hiring more counselors to serve more women in need,” reads the contract.

Classes, which are billed as chastity classes, parenting classes, pregnancy classes, and childbirth classes, are reimbursed at $21.80 per client. Meanwhile, as per the most recent contract, counseling sessions, which are separate from the classes, are reimbursed by the state at minimum rates of $1.09 per minute.

Jenny Hunsberger, vice president of Women’s Care Center, told Rewire that half of all pregnant women in Elkhart, LaPorte, Marshall, and St. Joseph Counties, and one in four pregnant women in Allen County, are clients of their centers. To receive any material goods, such as diapers, food, and clothing, she said, all clients must receive this counseling, at no cost to them. Such counseling is billed by the minute for reimbursement.

“When every other baby born [in those counties] starts with Women’s Care Center, that’s a lot of minutes,” Hunsberger told Rewire.

Rewire was unable to verify exactly what is said in those counseling sessions, except that they are meant to encourage clients to carry their pregnancies to term and to help them decide between adoption or child rearing, according to Hunsberger. As mandated by the contract, both counseling and classes must “provide abstinence education as the best and only method of avoiding unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.”

In the first quarter of the new contract alone, Women’s Care Center billed Real Alternatives and, in turn, the state, $239,290.97; about $150,000 of that was for counseling, according to documents obtained by Rewire. In contrast, goods like food, diapers, and other essentials for new parents made up only about 18.5 percent of Women’s Care Center’s first-quarter reimbursements.

Despite the fact that the state is paying for counseling at Women’s Care Center, Rewire was unable to find any licensing for counselors affiliated with the centers. Hunsberger told Rewire that counseling assistants and counselors complete a minimum training of 200 hours overseen by a master’s level counselor, but the counselors and assistants do not all have social work or psychology degrees. Hunsberger wrote in an email to Rewire that “a typical Women’s Care Center is staffed with one or more highly skilled counselors, MSW or equivalent.”

Rewire followed up for more information regarding what “typical” or “equivalent” meant, but Hunsberger declined to answer. A search for licenses for the known counselors at Women’s Care Center’s Indiana locations turned up nothing. The Indiana State Department of Health told Rewire that it does not monitor or regulate the staff at Real Alternatives’ subcontractors, and both Women’s Care Center and Real Alternatives were uncooperative when asked for more information regarding their counseling staff and training.

Bethany Christian Services and Heartline Pregnancy Center, Real Alternatives’ other Indiana subcontractors, billed the program $380.41 and $404.39 respectively in the first quarter. They billed only for counseling sessions, and not goods or classes.

In a 2011 interview with Philadelphia City Paper, Kevin Bagatta said that Real Alternatives counselors were not required to have a degree.

“We don’t provide medical services. We provide human services,” Bagatta told the City Paper.

There are pregnancy centers in Indiana that provide a full range of referrals for reproductive health care, including for STI testing and abortion. However, they are not eligible for reimbursement under the Real Alternatives contract because they do not maintain an anti-choice mission.

Parker Dockray is the executive director of Backline, an all-options pregnancy resource center. She told Rewire that Backline serves hundreds of Indiana residents each month, and is overwhelmed by demand for diapers and other goods, but it is ineligible for the funding because it will refer women to abortion providers if they choose not to carry a pregnancy to term.

“At a time when so many Hoosier families are struggling to make ends meet, it is irresponsible for the state to divert funds intended to support low-income women and children and give it to organizations that provide biased pregnancy counseling,” Dockray told Rewire. “We wish that Indiana would use this funding to truly support families by providing job training, child care, and other safety net services, rather than using it to promote an anti-abortion agenda.”

“Life Is Winning in Indiana”

Time and again, Bagatta and Hunsberger stressed to Rewire that their organizations do not employ deceitful tactics to get women in the door and to convince them not to have abortions. However, multiple studies have proven that crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women from the moment they search online for an abortion provider through the end of their appointments inside the center.

These studies have also shown that publicly funded crisis pregnancy centers dispense medically inaccurate information to clients. In addition to spreading lies like abortion causing infertility or breast cancer, they are known to give false hopes of miscarriages to people who are pregnant and don’t want to be. A 2015 report by NARAL Pro-Choice America found this practice to be ubiquitous in centers throughout the United States, and Rewire found that Women’s Care Center is no exception. The organization’s website says that as many as 40 percent of pregnancies end in natural miscarriage. While early pregnancy loss is common, it occurs in about 10 percent of known pregnancies, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Crisis pregnancy centers also tend to crop up next to abortion clinics with flashy, deceitful signs that lead many to mistakenly walk into the wrong building. Once inside, clients are encouraged not to have an abortion.

A Google search for “abortion” and “Indianapolis” turns up an ad for the Women’s Care Center as the first result. It reads: “Abortion – Indianapolis – Free Ultrasound before Abortion. Located on 86th and Georgetown. We’re Here to Help – Call Us Today: Abortion, Ultrasound, Locations, Pregnancy.”

Hunsberger denies any deceit on the part of Women’s Care Center.

“Clients who walk in the wrong door are informed that we are not the abortion clinic and that we do not provide abortions,” Hunsberger told Rewire. “Often a woman will choose to stay or return because we provide services that she feels will help her make the best decision for her, including free medical-grade pregnancy tests and ultrasounds which help determine viability and gestational age.”

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky told Rewire that since Women’s Care Center opened on 86th and Georgetown in Indianapolis, many patients looking for its Georgetown Health Center have walked through the “wrong door.”

“We have had patients miss appointments because they went into their building and were kept there so long they missed their scheduled time,” Judi Morrison, vice president of marketing and education, told Rewire.

Sarah Bardol, director of Women’s Care Center’s Indianapolis clinic, told the Criterion Online Edition, a publication of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, that the first day the center was open, a woman and her boyfriend did walk into the “wrong door” hoping to have an abortion.

“The staff of the new Women’s Care Center in Indianapolis, located just yards from the largest abortion provider in the state, hopes for many such ‘wrong-door’ incidents as they seek to help women choose life for their unborn babies,” reported the Criterion Online Edition.

If they submit to counseling, Hoosiers who walk into the “wrong door” and “choose life” can receive up to about $40 in goods over the course their pregnancy and the first year of that child’s life. Perhaps several years ago they may have been eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but now with the work requirement, they may not qualify.

In a February 2016 interview with National Right to Life, one of the nation’s most prominent anti-choice groups, Gov. Pence said, “Life is winning in Indiana.” Though Pence was referring to the Real Alternatives contract, and the wave of anti-choice legislation sweeping through the state, it’s not clear what “life is winning” actually means. The state’s opioid epidemic claimed 1,172 lives in 2014, a statistically significant increase from the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV infections have spread dramatically throughout the state, in part because of Pence’s unwillingness to support medically sound prevention practices. Indiana’s infant mortality rate is above the national average, and infant mortality among Black babies is even higher. And Pence has reduced access to prevention services such as those offered by Planned Parenthood through budget cuts and unnecessary regulations—while increasing spending on anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.

Gov. Pence’s track record shows that these policies are no mistake. The medical and financial needs of his most vulnerable constituents have taken a backseat to religious ideology throughout his time in office. He has literally reallocated money for poor Hoosiers to fund anti-choice organizations. In his tenure as both a congressman and a governor, he’s proven that whether on a national or state level, he’s willing to put “pro-life” over quality-of-life for his constituents.

Commentary Sexual Health

Fewer Young People Are Getting Formal Sex Education, But Can a New Federal Bill Change That?

Martha Kempner

Though the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act has little chance of passing Congress, its inclusive and evidence-based approach is a much-needed antidote to years of publicly funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which may have contributed to troubling declines in youth knowledge about sexual and reproductive health.

Recent research from the Guttmacher Institute finds there have been significant changes in sexuality education during the last decade—and not for the better.

Fewer young people are receiving “formal sex education,” meaning classes that take place in schools, youth centers, churches, or community settings. And parents are not necessarily picking up the slack. This does not surprise sexuality education advocates, who say shrinking resources and restrictive public policies have pushed comprehensive programs—ones that address sexual health and contraception, among other topics—out of the classroom, while continued funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs has allowed uninformative ones to remain.

But just a week before this research was released in April, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act (REHYA). If passed, REHYA would allocate federal funding for accurate, unbiased sexuality education programs that meet strict content requirements. More importantly, it would lay out a vision of what sexuality education could and should be.

Can this act ensure that more young people get high-quality sexuality education?

In the short term: No. Based on the track record of our current Congress, it has little chance of passing. But in the long run, absolutely.

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Less Sexuality Education Today

The Guttmacher Institute’s new study compared data from two rounds of a national survey in the years 2006-2010 and 2011-2013. It found that even the least controversial topics in sex education—sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV and AIDS—are taught less today than a few years ago. The proportion of young women taught about STDs declined from 94 percent to 90 percent between the two time periods, and young women taught about HIV and AIDS declined from 89 percent to 86 percent during the same period.

While it may seem like a lot of young people are still learning about these potential consequences of unprotected sex, few are learning how to prevent them. In the 2011-2013 survey, only 50 percent of teen girls and 58 percent of teen boys had received formal instruction about how to use a condom before they turned 18. And the percentage of teens who reported receiving formal education about birth control in general decreased from 70 percent to 60 percent among girls and from 61 percent to 55 percent among boys.

One of the only things that did increase was the percentage of teen girls (from 22 percent to 28 percent) and boys (from 29 to 35 percent) who said they got instruction on “how to say no to sex”—but no corresponding instruction on birth control.

Unfortunately, many parents do not appear to be stepping in to fill the gap left by formal education. The study found that while there’s been a decline in formal education, there has been little change in the number of kids who say they’ve spoken to their parents about birth control.

Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, told Rewire that this can lead to a dangerous situation: “In the face of declining formal education and little discussion from their parents, young people are left to fend for themselves, often turning to their friends or the internet-either of which can be fraught with trouble.”

The study makes it very clear that we are leaving young people unprepared to make responsible decisions about sex. When they do receive education, it isn’t always timely: It found that in 2011-2013, 43 percent of teen females and 57 percent of teen males did not receive information about birth control before they had sex for the first time.

It could be tempting to argue that the situation is not actually dire because teen pregnancy rates are at a historic low, potentially suggesting that young people can make do without formal sex education or even parental advice. Such an argument would be a mistake. Teen pregnancy rates are dropping for a variety of reasons, but mostly because because teens are using contraception more frequently and more effectively. And while that is great news, it is insufficient.

Our goals in providing sex education have to go farther than getting young people to their 18th or 21st birthday without a pregnancy. We should be working to ensure that young people grow up to be sexually healthy adults who have safe and satisfying relationships for their whole lives.

But for anyone who needs an alarming statistic to prove that comprehensive sex education is still necessary, here’s one: Adolescents make up just one quarter of the population, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate they account for more than half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that occur each year in this country.

The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act

The best news about the REHYA is that it takes a very broad approach to sexuality education, provides a noble vision of what young people should learn, and seems to understand that changes should take place not just in K-12 education but through professional development opportunities as well.

As Advocates for Youth explains, if passed, REHYA would be the first federal legislation to ever recognize young people’s right to sexual health information. It would allocate funding for education that includes a wide range of topics, including communication and decision-making skills; safe and healthy relationships; and preventing unintended pregnancy, HIV, other STIs, dating violence, sexual assault, bullying, and harassment.

In addition, it would require all funded programs to be inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students and to meet the needs of young people who are sexually active as well as those who are not. The grants could also be used for adolescents and young adults in institutes of higher education. Finally, the bill recognizes the importance of teacher training and provides resources to prepare sex education instructors.

If we look at the federal government’s role as leading by example, then REHYA is a great start. It sets forth a plan, starts a conversation, and moves us away from decades of focusing on disproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. In fact, one of the fun parts of this new bill is that it diverts funding from the Title V program, which received $75 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2016. That funding has supported programs that stick to a strict eight-point definition of “abstinence education” (often called the “A-H definition”) that, among other things, tells young people that sex outside of marriage is against societal norms and likely to have harmful physical and psychological effects.

The federal government does not make rules on what can and cannot be taught in classrooms outside of those programs it funds. Broad decisions about topics are made by each state, while more granular decisions—such as what curriculum to use or videos to show—are made by local school districts. But the growth of the abstinence-only-until-marriage approach and the industry that spread it, researchers say, was partially due to federal funding and the government’s “stamp of approval.”

Heather Boonstra, director of public policy at the Guttmacher Institute and a co-author of its study, told Rewire: “My sense is that [government endorsement] really spurred the proliferation of a whole industry and gave legitimacy—and still does—to this very narrow approach.”

The money—$1.5 billion total between 1996 and 2010—was, of course, at the heart of a lot of that growth. School districts, community-based organizations, and faith-based institutions created programs using federal and state money. And a network of abstinence-only-until-marriage organizations grew up to provide the curricula and materials these programs needed. But the reach was broader than that: A number of states changed the rules governing sex education to insist that schools stress abstinence. Some even quoted all or part of the A-H definition in their state laws.

REHYA would provide less money to comprehensive education than the abstinence-only-until-marriage funding streams did to their respective programs, but most advocates agree that it is important nonetheless. As Jesseca Boyer, vice president at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), told Rewire, “It establishes a vision of what the government could do in terms of supporting sex education.”

Boonstra noted that by providing the model for good programs and some money that would help organizations develop materials for those programs, REHYA could have a broader reach than just the programs it would directly fund.

The advocates Rewire spoke with agree on something else, as well: REHYA has very little chance of passing in this Congress. But they’re not deterred. Even if it doesn’t become law this year, or next, it is moving the pendulum back toward the comprehensive approach to sex education that our young people need.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify Jesseca Boyer’s position at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.