President Obama’s new budget would eliminate most money for abstinence-only sex education and shift it to teen pregnancy prevention — a U-turn in what has been more than a decade of sex education policy in the USA.
The proposed budget, sent to Congress last Thursday, “reflects the research,” says Melody Barnes, director of the team that coordinates White House domestic policy.
“In any area where Americans want to confront a problem, they want solutions they know will work, as opposed to programming they know hasn’t proven to be successful. Given where we’ve been in recent years, I think this is a very important moment,” she says.
Abstinence-only sex education programs, which emphasize a no-sex-until-marriage message, received almost $1.3 billion in federal dollars from fiscal years 2001-2009, according to the Office of Management and Budget. At the same time, studies of abstinence-only programs have shown little success; the most often-cited study, released in 2007, was congressionally mandated and federally funded and found that abstinence-only programs don’t prevent or delay teen sex.
Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association says that 2007 study was “an early study about early programs. Things have changed.”
Two weeks ago, she says her organization briefed congressional aides about an analysis of studies that she says refutes arguments that abstinence education doesn’t affect sexual behavior.
Barnes says the budget leaves open a possibility that an abstinence-only program could be funded, if there is evidence of its effectiveness.
Obama’s budget proposes almost $178 million for teen pregnancy prevention, including $110 million for community-based programs. About 75% of that is for programs proven to have delayed sex and increased contraceptive use or reduced teen pregnancy. The other 25% could be for “innovative” programs.
Obama “is open to innovation, and that could include abstinence-only if there is some indication it would work,” Barnes says.
Huber says her organization must work harder to convince Congress to continue funding abstinence education.
“We’re encouraging abstinence programs around the country to let Congress know what research they have and share what an abstinence program truly is,” Huber says.