Even though more than 90 percent of Americans support teaching comprehensive sex education in high schools, the federal government, under the Bush Administration, funneled over 1 billion dollars into abstinence-only education programs. Three separate funding streams supported abstinence-only programs, including the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, the Adolescent Family Life Programs Act (AFLA) and the Community-Based Abstinence Education Act. Any program receiving funds through these sources was prohibited from discussing the health benefits of contraceptives, even if the information was geared toward disease prevention rather than pregnancy prevention. In contrast to the billion dollars spent supporting abstinence-only programs, not a single cent went towards funding comprehensive sex-education programs.
Despite reports condemning the programs as total failures, federal funding for abstinence-only programs continued. The most recent studies show the clear effect of these funding choices: for the first time in fifteen years teen pregnancy rates in the United States are on the rise. Youth health advocates credit a cutback in funding for those programs advocating policies other than abstinence-only as contributing to the sharp increase in teenage pregnancies. Instead of providing teens with important information and health care options, the Bush administration policies restricted access to birth control and related health services. The results are undeniable. The results are tragic.
In an attempt to remedy the effects of poor funding choices based on religious preference in lieu of scientific evidence, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Christopher Shays (R-CT) are sponsoring the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act. The REAL Act would provide federal money to support responsible, comprehensive sex education in public schools. The money would not eliminate teaching abstinence as the only certain way to prevent pregnancy or sexually-transmitted disease. Rather, the REAL Act would require abstinence education be coupled with age-appropriate and medically accurate information about the all methods of pregnancy and disease prevention.
Currently more than 125 national and state organizations support the REAL Act, including faith-based, family planning, educational, and medical rights organizations. With national health care reform on the minds of most Americans, and a nominee for Surgeon General who, by all indications, would support such a move, the time is now to enact comprehensive federal sex education to prevent unwanted teenage pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease. Click here and urge your members of Congress to support this vital bill.
photo courtesy of mahalie via Flickr.