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Education Reporter

Coalition Wants to Censor Abstinence Education
Scott Phelps
Scott Phelps
WASHINGTON, DC - Planned Parenthood, SIECUS, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and about 30 other groups held a press conference on June 12 to announce they will work together to defund the teaching of sexual abstinence in public schools. Accusing abstinence-until-marriage programs of "censorship," the coalition wants the federal government to limit schools' ability to choose abstinence programs for their students under the Title V block grant provision of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. The coalition also warned of legislative efforts by some states to "copy the federal abstinence-only statute." "Even if they don't pass," a press release stated, "these bills have a censorial and chilling effect."

The coalition described funding for abstinence-until-marriage programs as "one of the religious right's greatest victories." Among the "problems" allegedly caused by abstinence education: (1) grant money is being awarded to pastors and religious organizations for abstinence programs; (2) "chastity" events are being held in public schools during which children pledge to wait until marriage to have sex; (3) sexually-explicit portions of health textbooks and other classroom materials are being removed; and (4) students are "suffer[ing] from ignorance."

Abstinence education advocates reject the coalition's claims. "Who is censoring whom?" asks Scott Phelps of Chicago-based Project Reality, a leader in abstinence-centered education. "Abstinence education is spreading like wildfire. After years of holding a monopoly on sex education, Planned Parenthood and friends are losing their grip as more and more schools across the country embrace abstinence education."

Last September, the Guttmacher Institute - a Planned Parenthood affiliate - reported that the number of teachers and school nurses embracing abstinence education jumped from 25% to 41% over a 10-year period, while the number of teachers who considered contraception instruction "most important" declined from 5% to just 1.5%. (See Education Reporter, November 2000.)

"This is particularly problematic for Planned Parenthood," observes Phelps, "since they've just begun selling their own brand of condoms targeted to kids 'in a variety of styles, colors, and flavors.' Although claiming that 'abstinence doesn't work,' Planned Parenthood likely knows that abstinence does work, and they are extremely concerned about it."

In January of this year, the American Journal of Sociology published the results of an extensive research study conducted by Columbia and Yale Universities on "virginity pledges," which may be part of some abstinence-centered programs. The researchers concluded in their report that "Taking a pledge delays intercourse for a long time. The pledge effect . . . is real and it is substantial."

The researchers found that teens who took chastity pledges were 34% less likely to engage in premarital sex, and that the median age for first intercourse among pledging females was reduced two to three years compared to non-pledging females. Similar delays were found in males.

Many abstinence advocates believe that these research findings explain why Planned Parenthood and its allies are stepping up their anti-abstinence campaign. "While these groups are claiming that teaching abstinence to teens is censorship, they are ironically saying that teachers who fail to teach what they want them to teach should be censored," Scott Phelps points out. "They are demanding that all schools teach Planned Parenthood's brand of sex education even though many parents, teachers and schools are choosing abstinence education."

Phelps notes that, while comprehensive sex education claims to teach "both abstinence and contraception," it focuses on teaching students how to use condoms even if they are not sexually active.

Despite the Planned Parenthood coalition's efforts, abstinence programs are expected to continue to increase. "Abstinence education programs are growing in numbers, impact and popularity among schools and administrators," says Project Reality director Kathleen Sullivan, "and government funding does not involve censorship, but recognition of success. The cry of censorship certainly applies to groups who would suggest eliminating programs that teach teens that abstinence is the safest and healthiest lifestyle."

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