WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search) said Sunday that the government should review federally funded sexual abstinence programs (search), under fire from Democrats who say they contain false and misleading medical information.
The "abstinence-only" programs, which get $170 million from Congress this year, teach children and teens the benefits of abstaining from sex until marriage. By law, they are not allowed to discuss any benefits of birth control or condoms in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (search).
A report last week by Rep. Henry Waxman (search), D-Calif., found 11 of the 13 most widely used programs contain misinformation. He said they underestimate the effectiveness of condoms in preventing pregnancy and the spread of disease, exaggerate the prevalence of emotional and physical distress following abortion (search), blur science and religion or get fundamental scientific facts wrong.
Asked about these findings, Frist, a doctor who often calls on his medical expertise, did not directly answer the issues raised. But he said the programs should be reviewed.
"Of course they should be reviewed," Frist said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" program. "That's in part our responsibility to make sure that all of these programs are reviewed."
He touted the benefits of a more comprehensive approach backed by President Bush in the global fight against AIDS (search) called "ABC" for abstinence, being faithful and use of condoms.
"Whether it's abstinence or whether it's a condom or whether it is better education on the infectivity of how washing hands in terms of the flu, all of these are public health challenges that we need in terms of better education," Frist said.
The Waxman report said one abstinence-only curricula incorrectly says that people can contract HIV through exposure to sweat and tears.
Asked he thought that was true, Frist said it "would be very hard" to transmit HIV through sweat and tears.