Pro-Family Christians Criticize Reliance on Flawed Anti-Abstinence Report

Correction appended

WASHINGTON – Christian public policy leaders are exposing flaws in a report used by opponents of the abstinence-only program as Democratic leaders this week vowed to pull the plug on the $50 million federal funding for abstinence education.

The new report by the research firm Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., held up by supporters as evidence to the failure of the nation's abstinence-only program, has "ignored" several important points, say some pro-family Christian leaders.

"At first glance, the results appear disappointing. It would have been a relief to find that a small investment in a middle school program could overcome the raw messages of our sexualized culture," wrote Moira Gaul and Tony Perkins in a column on the Family Research Council (FRC) website.

"But that's not the whole story," they continued. "The researchers chose to ignore the abstinence programs most recommended for study, and focused on programs that have since been revised. The scope and the depth of abstinence programs were ignored, and a narrow few chosen for examination."

The Mathematica report was funded by the federal department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and examined four abstinence education programs for elementary students and middle-schoolers. The study found that students who had taken the abstinence course were no less likely to engage in sexual intercourse than students who had not taken the class.

Moreover, among those who reported having had sex, they had similar numbers of sexual partners and began having sex at the same mean age.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, had pointed to the report as support why he views abstinence-only to be a "colossal failure," according to The Associated Press. Dingell's committee has authority over the abstinence program.

However, the study only examined four programs out of more than 900 currently in place, pointed out S. Michael Craven, founding director of the Center for Christ & Culture in a column. Moreover, out of the four programs studied, one was voluntary and took place after school. In addition, the students in the abstinence programs were ages 9-11 and were not evaluated until four to six year later.

"The fact is, the targeted children were too young to absorb the abstinence message, and there was no continuation of abstinence education into the High School years when adolescents are more likely to engage in sexual activity," wrote Craven.

Both Perkins, who is president of FRC, and Craven pointed to a recent HHS-sponsored conference in Baltimore that presented evidence from more than 20 studies that abstinence programs are resulting in positive outcomes for youth.

"The truth is, programs that are more intensive, that are genuinely comprehensive (that is, they address the need for risk elimination across a range of behaviors, including alcohol, tobacco, drug abuse, and violence prevention), are showing real benefit," stated the FRC column.

"Moreover, it is crucial for risk elimination programs that they not 'give up' on kids and discount them as forever prone to high-risk behaviors."

In a recent Zogby poll, 80 percent of parents who were informed what abstinence education actually teaches said they prefer abstinence education over comprehensive sex education in public schools. Moreover, 90 percent of parents believe it is important for schools to emphasize abstaining from sex given the high number of STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) among teens.

"There so much misinformation out there about what abstinence education is," said Valerie Huber, executive director of National Abstinence Education Association, which commissioned the Zogby poll, according to Citizen Link. "We were convinced that once parents understood the real content of abstinence education, they would overwhelmingly support abstinence."

Democratic leaders say they will let the multi-million abstinence program, Title V, expire on June 30. Abstinence teachings in schools, however, will still occur but would be combined with comprehensive sex-ed programs that would teach about birth control and other "safe-sex" methods.

But as Craven asked, "… given the values espoused under abstinence education versus the 'no values' approach of 'comprehensive' sex education, which approach should we employ if the stated goal of both sides is to 'reduce adolescent sexual activity and its consequence?"

Correction: Thursday, May 31, 2007:

An article on May 19, 2007, about a new report that claims the nation's abstinence-only program is a failure incorrectly reported the expiration date for the multi-million abstinence program. The program, Title V, will expire on June 30 not June 3.