Back in 2015, there was a brief resurgence in “Abstinence-only” education funding…
There have been improvements since then. But while our attention was diverted elsewhere, a war has been taking place over the Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) program, a comprehensive educational approach credited with helping to drive the nation’s teen pregnancy rate to an all-time low. Perversely, in his 2018 budget, Trump stated that he would fund only ineffective abstinence-based programs and in July of 2017, his appointees overruled agency career officials and cut funding for the last two years of this highly successful program. A lawsuit is pending and the administration agreed to put back some of the program’s funding. But not for the existing programs. On Friday, when all bad things happen now, the HHS announced their new requirements for abstinence-based sex-ed programs. So here we go…
They re-branded “Abstinence-only”. Meet “Sexual risk avoidance”! It’s still bad.
“Abstinence-only” training is ineffective: (nbc) In 2007, the non-partisan National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy stated “At present there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence or reduces the number of sexual partners”, and that more comprehensive programs that supported both abstinence and the use of condoms and contraceptives for sexually active teens had positive behavior effects.”
“Abstinance-only” training fails to meet the needs of young people: It withholds potentially life-saving sexual health information and skills when students become sexually active and systematically ignore the needs of those who are already sexually active, including communication skills and “consent”. They de-emphasize the benefits of contraception, and overstate risks, discouraging their use.
It violates ethical principles: Teachers, health educators and health care providers have ethical obligations to provide accurate information to their students or patients and to not withhold information as a way of influencing their choices.
It perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes and discrimination: Many abstinence-only programs teach gender stereotypes as facts, including stereotypes about feminine passivity and sexual restraint, while linking masculinity with an intense sex drive, lack of emotional involvement and aggressiveness. These programs still emphasize heterosexual relationships as the expected societal norm and not only ignore, but often undermine, the sexual health and overall well-being of LGBTQ youth.
Stigmatize sex, sexual health and sexuality. These programs deliberately promote judgment, fear, guilt and shame around sex, framing premarital sexual activity and pregnancy as wrong or risky choices with negative health outcomes and shaming sexually active young people and young parents
Ignore systemic inequities in defining “success.”: These programs seek to prescribe a single life path for young people, the “success sequence for poverty prevention,” while ignoring systemic inequities—such as racism, inequality, discrimination and trauma—that contribute to poverty and also influence adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
New words to watch for: “evidence-based”, “medically accurate and complete,” “healthy relationships”, “success sequencing for poverty prevention,” “youth empowerment,” and “holistic” (frankly, we think this last one is just to reel in Californians). Abstinence fans use them all.
Abstinence-people even renamed themselves:
In 2012, the primary advocacy organization for abstinence-only programs, the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA), dropped “abstinence” from its name altogether and rebranded itself as “Ascend.” Really. For your convenience, we’ve created a mnemonic to help – “Abstinence’ Second Crack at Education with New Designation”.
Then the HHS appointed this woman…
Valerie Huber was appointed Chief of Staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health at the Department of Health and Human Services in June, 2017. Previously the president of “Ascend”, Huber was also the director of the Department of Health Abstinence Education Program in Ohio. (from Democracy forward) “A study conducted by Case Western Reserve University found that Ms. Huber’s work promoting abstinence-only education in Ohio had “critical problems,” including that it contained “false and misleading information regarding sexual health and wellness,” “misrepresent[ed] religious convictions as scientific fact,” and ‘contain[ed] false information about contraceptives.” She was ultimately found to have engaged in ethics violations and suspended by the Ohio Department of Health after she tried to direct state contracts to a company to which she had ties”.
…which helped lead the HHS into halting an effective program…
(HealthyTeenNetwork) “Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pulled over $210 million in funding for the bi-partisan supported and proven-effective Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP). Over 80 institutions will have to end projects that support healthy sexual and reproductive behaviors among youth two years early, affecting hundreds of thousands of young people.” A lawsuit by on behalf of nine plaintiffs, including Planned Parenthood affiliates, King County, and Healthy Teen Network, charge that the termination of TPPP without cause is contrary to HHS’s own regulations and is in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. So some money came back…
…and now the HHS is calling for new programs that emphasize”
abstinence only” “sexual risk avoidance” .
Their “funding opportunity” announcement, along with promising to reach more youth, focuses on “ensuring all youth understand that teen sex is a risk behavior and that they always have the opportunity to make healthier choices in the future.” For the next two years, proven methodology will be ignored while public and private groups are given free rein to experiment with possibly harmful methodogies on our youth, as they try to find some way to prove that abstinence-only sex-ed works. The irony is that these exercises will end up being evaluated by the Tool to Assess Characteristics by Dr. Douglas Kirby, the researcher who originally declared “abstinence-only” programs ineffective.
There’s big money in this.
Under Bush, “community-based abstinence education” ballooned from $20 million initially to $113 million at its peak. This new program is going to waste $101 million of our taxpayer money on grants to far-right hucksters and religious fundamentalists to repeat the sexual disinformation campaign already discredited under the Bush Administration. Religious-based groups are already pushing into public schools, teaching abstinence-based sex-ed consisting of scare tactics, shaming students who choose to have sex, and ignoring or giving inaccurate information on contraceptives.
Call your representative and your two senators and flood Mr. Azar of the HHS with calls. Let’s see if he really signed up for this nonsense. Take back our language. Never use their terms. Always use “abstinence-based”. Pair it with “ineffective”.
Minimal Script to legislators: I’m calling from [zip code] and want [___] to do whatever is necessary to reinstate comprehensive sex education grants for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program and to stop the waste of taxpayer money on
“sexual risk avoidance” “abstinence-only” programs.
Rep. Julia Brownley: (CA-26): DC (202) 225-5811, Oxnard (805) 379-1779, T.O. (805) 379-1779
or Rep. Salud Carbajal: (CA-24): DC (202) 225-3601, SB (805) 730-1710 SLO (805) 546-8348
Senator Feinstein: DC (202) 224-3841
and Senator Harris: DC (202) 224-3553
Other Contacts: http://www.phoneyourrep.com
Minimal Script to Alex Azar, Secretary of HHS: I’m calling/writing from [State] and want you to rein in your right-wing ideologues and do what is right and effective for American students and stop the shift of funding from comprehensive sex education to
“sexual risk avoidance” abstinence-only education for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grants. The TPP program has helped reduce the US teen pregnancy rate to an all-time low and should remain as it is.
E-mail Address: Secretary@HHS.gov
BREAKING: New Records Suggest Trump-Appointed Political Officials Drove HHS Decision To End Program Grants That Have Helped Reduce Teen Pregnancy Rates To All-Time Low (democracyforce)
Fact Sheet: FY 2018 Funding Opportunity Announcements for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (HHS)
New Name, Same Harm: Rebranding of Federal Abstinence-Only Programs(guttmacher)
DONALD TRUMP’S EMBRACE OF ABSTINENCE-ONLY SEX ED IS AN ABSURD TWIST ON A FAILED POLICY (intercept)
The Characteristics of Effective Teen Pregnancy HIV, and STI Programs (Produced by the Healthy Teen Network in partnership with the Alabama Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and the Alabama Department of Public Health) (alabama)
Abstinence Only Until Marriage Programs: Ineffective, Unethical, and Poor Public Health (advocates for youth)
What Are the Goals of Sex Education For Youth?(planned parenthood)
HHS agrees to protect some funds for teen pregnancy prevention program. Political appointees’ decision to cut funding is partially reversed for now. (NBC)
Teaching Fear: The Religious Right’s Campaign Against Sexuality Education (pfaw.org)