Pol: Abstinence Programs Distort Truth

Federally funded abstinence education (search) programs that are used in 25 states contain false and misleading information about contraception, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases, a Democratic lawmaker said Wednesday.

The abstinence programs have been embraced by President Bush (search). They will receive $170 million in the current government spending year, more than double what the government was spending when Bush took office in 2001. The abstinence curriculum may not include instruction in contraceptive use as a condition of federal funding.

But a report from Rep. Henry Waxman (search), D-Calif., said that 11 of the 13 most widely used programs underestimate the effectiveness of condoms in preventing pregnancy and the spread of disease, exaggerate the prevalence of emotional and physical distress following abortion, blur science and religion or get fundamental scientific facts wrong.

Alma Golden, the deputy assistant Health and Human Services (search) secretary for population affairs, said the report took statements out of context to present the programs in the worst possible light.

"These issues have been raised before and discredited," Golden said. "One thing is very clear for our children, abstaining from sex is the most effective means of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, STDs and preventing pregnancy."

Waxman said, "It is absolutely vital that the health education provided to America's youth be scientifically and medically accurate. The abstinence-only programs reviewed in this report fail to meet this standard."

A.C. Green's Game Plan, named for the professional basketball player who said he would not have sex before he was married, raises question about whether condoms can stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, Waxman's report said. "The popular claim that condoms help prevent the spread of STDs, is not supported by the data," the program's teacher's manual says.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (search) and other researchers have found that consistent and correct condom use does protect against transmissions of many STDs, the report said.

Other programs asserted as fact sharply contested claims, the report said. The FACTS middle school program, developed by Northwest Family Services, says, "Conception, also known as fertilization, occurs when one sperm unites with one egg in the upper third of the fallopian tube. This is when life begins."

In another instance, the Why kNOw curriculum asserts "twenty-four chromosomes from the mother and twenty-four chromosomes from the father join to create this new individual," the report said. The correct number is 23 each.

Some curriculums also rely on what Waxman called damaging stereotypes about boys and girls, including that girls care less about achievement and their futures.

The Why kNOw curriculum teaches: "Women gauge their happiness and judge their success by their relationships. Men's happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments."