Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Abstinence Funding Gets Dumped

Government Cuts Abstinence Funding from Budget
Will We Get Something Better or Worse?

by Brian Housman
President Obama just released his proposed budget for 2010. Much to the disappointment of many parents and educators, he has recommended cutting all federal funding for abstinence education programs in public schools. At $170 million, in terms of federal spending, it was only a small amount to begin with compared to what is spent on other "family planning" programs and sex education initiatives. But small as it might have been, it was still a willingness on the government's part to explore other practices for educating our teens in their sexual options.

Those who are in support of abstinence programs (myself included) are deeply disturbed by the blanket disregard for other options. Jimmy Hester, co-founder of True Love Waits, said via email response, “From a medical standpoint, there is no such thing as safe sex for unmarried young people, so we believe it is a disservice to eliminate opportunities for them to hear a positive message about remaining abstinent until marriage." While I believe abstinence is realistic choice that many teens will honor, I also don't live under a delusion that all (or even most) will. So I don't fault the government for wanting to offer many choices and a variety of programs. What I find alarming is the government's implication by this budget choice that teen sexual abstinence is not doable. Or better than that, that it is not a preferable and honorable standard to live by.

You Did What? Based On What?

The two reasons some in the family planning field have wanted to cut the federal funding for abstinence education is a belief that it just doesn't work. There has been a grand total of one federally funded study done on the effectiveness of abstinence programs. This study only evaluated a few programs used in schools and it evaluated the early phases of the programs. When the programs were only given funding for a few years there is no way this could be consider an accurate longitudinal study especially when other studies have shown just the opposite. Melissa Pardue of the Heritage Foundation sites ten different national studies that have shown abstinence based sex education as being effective in reducing teen pregnancy. Four of the studies were published in peer reviewed journals.

Another reason given for cutting the funding is the recent increase in teen pregnancy. For almost twenty years teen pregnancy and sexual activity trends were going down. Then in 2007 the rates for both went up. Again in 2008 they went up. And I would guess it will go up again in 2009. While this recent uptick is disturbing, no one in their right mind can accurately predict why. Even officials at the CDC have said it is way to early to even know if this is an anomaly or a trend. In the end, if it is shown that the leading factor in causing kids to engage in more sexual activity is abstinence education in public schools, then I for one will agree that we should eliminate those programs. But there has been no known study.

How Now Will We Respond

If the government moves forward with President Obama's recommendation, it will require some serious evaluation from the church and community groups on how to move forward with the message of abstinence. Hester said, "With the potential loss of federal funding, families, churches and other organizations will need to be creative and step up to the challenge of making sure students clearly understand the benefits of choosing abstinence and the risks of premarital sex.” Will need to be creative. That's a great statement those of us in the church need to hear. Not need to be dependent. Not need to expect the government to provide or even agree. Instead it will require us to put our heads together and be willing to think of new ways to communicate what is God's best to a new generation of students.

I believe teens need to know the truth and potential conequences of sexual activity as well as all their options whether that be oral contraceptives, condoms, and yes, abstinence. I don't expect all students to embrace a biblical value system but they should at least be aware of a different option. A better option. An option that if lived by has been proven to eliminate the risk of pregnancy, shame, regret, loss of reputation, and loss of future potential. Whether that option is funded by the government or the shoestring budgets of grassroots organization, it is worth the cost.