We’re Outta Here: States Bail on Ab-Only

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We’re Outta Here: States Bail on Ab-Only

William Smith

Of the twenty-five states that have turned down Title V abstinence-only funds, 80% have taken their leave because of principled stands that abstinence-only does not work.

Last week, SIECUS released
our annual SIECUS State
, which
documents every federal abstinence-only-until-marriage dollar on its
path from the federal treasury to the hands of states and organizations
across the country who, despite logic and evidence, continue to carry
out these failed and fledgling programs. 

This annual project provides
us with a wealth of information and, this week, SIECUS released some
additional information about the status of one of the three federal
abstinence-only-until-marriage pots of money: the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage
program, which doles out $50 million in tax payer funds each year to
states to fund programs.  Harsh restrictions prohibit programs
that receive these funds from discussing the effectiveness of contraception,
but require that they teach that sex outside of marriage can cause psychological
problems.  No, that is not a joke. 

The encouraging news is that
this program is in a state of utter collapse. 

The collapse has occurred in
no small part because of the diligence and dedication of advocates around
the country.  It has also been hastened by a report that the Bush
Administration’s own Department of Health and Human Services issued
showing that the program was an utter failure.  Even more embarrassingly,
the failed programs included in the study were a cherry-picked cadre
designed to represent the crème de la crème of the abstinence-only-until-marriage
industry.  Predictably, the Bush Administration’s preference
for ideology over science also led them to dismiss the report and simply
carry on as if it did not matter. 

Roe has collapsed and Texas is in chaos.

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But the Administration’s
blind faith in its failed programs could not save them. As of the end
of August, our research shows that 25 states have decided to no longer
participate in this federal funding scheme.  But, even more importantly,
this mass exodus has occurred, for the most part, for all the right

Of the twenty-five states that
have withdrawn, 20 of them — or 80% — have taken their leave because
of principled stands that abstinence-only does not work or that their
state supports a comprehensive approach to sex education.   

The spin of the abstinence-only-until-marriage
industry has been that the collapse of the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program is largely
the result of sporadic and inconsistent Congressional support. 
Our research shows that to be the case with fewer than a handful of
states.  In other words, the spin of those seeking to explain away
our collective success in getting states to walk away from this dirty
money simply is not supported by the research. 

On Capital Hill, the Title
V abstinence-only-until-marriage program has been a source of consternation
for Congress.  It has seen no fewer than 19 short term extensions,
creating a problem for states to run the program.  States work
on fiscal years, which do not mesh well with the three or six month
funding cycles which have kept the program hobbling along.  But
these short term extensions are largely the result of a Congress wrestling
with how to end or alter the program.  To date, they have failed,
and earlier this year, made a disastrous decision to extend the program
through June of 2009. 

This recent extension will
have an impact on the number of states involved in the program. For
example, Pennsylvania’s pro-choice Democratic Governor, Ed Rendell,
has given every indication that he will do a flip-flop on a previously
principled stand and drag his state back in.  This is regrettable
and unjustifiable.  A spokesperson of Rendell’s own Department
of Health said they "know that the best approach is comprehensive
sex education" and the director of the Governor’s Philadelphia office
told a crowd of ACT UP Philly protestors last week that "Rendell and
myself know that abstinence-only doesn’t work."   

Still, the collapse of the
Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program is likely unprecedented
in American history.  Never have so many states abstained from
the lure of raking in federal money. That the vast majority are doing
so for principled reasons is even more encouraging and shows the payoff
of years of investment in strategy carried out by hundreds of individuals
and groups from coast to coast.  

Finally, the collapse of the
Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program indicates major progress
by the advocacy community in helping policymakers address the issue
of sex education in America. Wisconsin’s Governor, Jim Doyle, for
example, summed it up well for us in describing the decision to keep
his state out of the program:  Ideology isn’t more important
than our kid’s health.