Advocates of "Abstinence Only" Attack Deval Patrick
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Sep 07, 2007 at 03:42:03 AM EST
Some months ago, Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts joined a growing chorus of state governments in refusing federal funds for abstinence education; a program which had been proved ineffective by the Bush administration's own data. This has come as a disappointment to the group that then-Governor Mitt Romney gave most of the federal grant money to.

Now the National Abstinence Education Association, a coalition of religious right abstinence education advocates is, according to the Associated Press, "targeting" Governor Patrick with a $75,000  negative ad campaign to try to get him to change his mind.

A major -- perhaps the major beneficiary of the $700,000 federal abstinence grant was Healthy Futures, a project of A Woman's Concern, a chain of Boston-area antiabortion crisis pregancy centers whose medical director Eric Keroak was appointed by President Bush to administer federal domestic family planning programs. It turned out Keroack was a crackpot (see here, here and here).      

Meanwhile, The Boston Herald reported:  

Secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby said the administration won't back down. Abstinence is part of comprehensive sex education, but the federal grant limits aren't based on health or science, she said.

"The restrictions on the money require that we teach things that are either unfounded in fact or are very biased in terms of their values," Bigby told the Herald.

State education guidelines require public schools to teach a comprehensive sex-ed program, of which abstinence is one aspect.

Rebecca Ray, director of Healthy Futures in Dorchester, which contracts with the state to administer the grant, said it makes up half her budget. Without it, she'll scale back.

The money was previously funneled by then-GOP governor Mitt Romney the group -- whose medical director the controversial Dr. Eric Keroack; resigned from the Bush adminstration under a cloud.

 I blogged about this at the time:

The Boston Globe reported:

Governor Deval Patrick wants to end state-sponsored , abstinence-only sex education in Massachusetts, a year after Governor Mitt Romney ordered the Department of Public Health to redirect a long-standing federal abstinence grant to classes that focus exclusively on encouraging teenagers to avoid sexual encounters....

The Patrick administration points to the federal government's study of abstinence-education programs, released this month, which found that students in programs focusing solely on abstinence are just as likely to have sex as those not in such programs. At the same time, health officials say, the programs' emphasis on the failure rate of condoms and other birth control, without providing instruction about their benefits, may confuse young people and discourage them from using protection...

The grant program that funds abstinence education was created by Congress in 1996 as part of welfare law changes, with the aim of discouraging teenagers from having sex outside marriage. Most states took the money and at first were allowed wide flexibility in how they used the funds. Until 2003, Massachusetts used the money for public service announcements encouraging teenagers to wait for marriage before having sex. The state then began spending the money on supplementary educational materials promoting abstinence.

In late 2005, Romney -- then a potential presidential candidate who was trying to establish credentials as a social conservative -- announced that he would channel the money directly into expanding abstinence education programs in schools. During the remainder of his administration, Massachusetts funneled more than $800,000 to Healthy Futures, a group that had been running abstinence education programs in more than three dozen middle schools...  

Rebecca Ray, director of Healthy Futures, said the funding from the state has helped the program to expand from 5,000 students to more than 11,000, mostly within the schools it already served.

Healthy Futures is a subsidiary of a Christian, anti abortion group called A Woman's Concern, but Ray said the curriculum is not religious and does not tell students what to think about abortion.

Talk to Action's Moiv reported that Keroack "was one of the "experts" who determined that federally funded abstinence education programs must mention contraceptives only in relation to their failure rates and promote abstinence until marriage."  (Small world.) This emphasis is one of the reasons given by MA state officials above for dropping the grant program.

And yet, Bush appointed Keroack as  Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, for the Office of Population Affairs, the lead the federal office that finances birth control, pregnancy tests among other health care programs -- including $283 million in family planning grants every year.

The purpose of this post, is not to review the Keroack controversy or to discuss the politization of science so much as to remind us that the Bush administration has populated the federal government with religious right ideologues and their allies, and diverted federal program funds to organizations that promote the agenda of the religious right. While the media has gone ga ga over everything "faith based," the bitter truth is that this has been mostly the old fashioned spoils system barely hidden behind warm and fuzzy faith-based window dressing. Talk to Action's own Cindy Cooper demonstrated that recently when she exposed the grant program priorities and self dealing of Wade Horn, another top official in Bush's HHS who also resigned.  

Meanwhile, Amy Bleakley, a research scientist observes in an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer,

The federal government currently spends $0 per year on sex-education programs that include accurate information on abstinence and contraception.

Instead, it spends $176 million to promote a misleading message of abstinence only. If President Bush gets his way, that expenditure will increase to $204 million next year....

Last fall, my colleagues and I published the results of a survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center...

Eight out of 10 Americans support programs that teach students what they need to know about sex - how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Almost 7 out of 10 favor instruction in condom use. This support for comprehensive sexual-health programs spanned religious and political spectra.

These average Americans joined many in the public-health community who have been recommending that sex-education programs provide scientifically accurate and potentially life-saving information about contraception and condom use.

The public health and social consequences of misinformation and ignorance are, of course profound, domestically and internationally as average Americans across the political spectrum know perfectly well.  

We need leaders -- polititians, religious leaders and responsible media who will stand-up to the moralizing and propaganda of the religious right: Women and men who will speak knowledgably, calmly, and confidently about matters of sexuality and reproductive health and life. That is one reason why, in an age of pandering to the religious right, Democratic governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts is a breath of fresh air.


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