President’s Budget Cuts Ab Only, Funds Teen Pregnancy Prevention

Crossposted at Choice Words.

President Obama’s 2010 budget, which was released today, May 7, 2009, eliminates funding for abstinence only programs and redirects funds to a new Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative. The relevant portions of the budget can be read here (pdf).

The elimination of funding for abstinence only programs is a huge victory. Abstinence only programs have no perceivable impact on teen sexual activity – young people who go through these programs are just as sexually active as their peers. Instead, the programs teach inaccurate information about contraception and decrease condom use and other safe sex practices . Further, they often teach a fundamentalist Christian worldview, encourage young people to fit into essentialist and offensive gender roles, and ignore or actively oppose homosexuality . Abstinence only programs waste government funds teaching a belief system rather than scientifically accurate information.

Federal funds for abstinence only programs are not necessarily gone; according to a Wall Street Journal article 25% of the $164 million in funds for teen pregnancy prevention could potentially go to these programs if they pass the evaluation process.

Funds will be directed to “teenage pregnancy prevention programs that have been proven through rigorous evaluation to delay sexual activity, increase contraceptive use (without increasing sexual activity), or reduce teenage pregnancy.” The administration recognizes that no abstinence only programs will qualify, as they have been shown to fail on all three counts. They could apply for funds to develop “innovative strategies” to prevent teen pregnancy, though these programs have had zero success showing results so far.

This is a qualified victory; the focus on pregnancy prevention reveals some major flaws. As SIECUS points out, these funds will not be able to go to programs focused on reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. This is arguably one of the most important aspects of comprehensive sexuality education and its conspicuous absence from government funded programs could be incredibly detrimental; I can imagine a scenario where young people are only being taught how to prevent pregnancies, so using birth control without condoms ends up seeming like not that bad an idea.

The current intense focus on teen pregnancy is increasing the vilification of teen parents, who are often viewed as foolish, irresponsible and a drain on society. These stereotypes often become racialized, as the pop culture image of teen parents is almost exclusively people of color; Bristol Palin is seen as an anomaly. Decreasing unwanted pregnancies is a good thing. Giving young people information about the responsibilities of raising a child is a good thing. But the mounting prejudice against teens who do parent needs to be countered.

Finally, safe consensual sex can be a great thing. We need to stop assuming that young people can’t have a healthy positive sexuality. Teens are not being trusted with information on how to have good sex and as a result are turning to whatever sources they can find such as porn, the vast majority of which presents a sexist and unrealistic view of sexuality. A cultural fear of and discomfort with real teen sexuality is clearly harming young people by refusing them important information.

Eliminating abstinence only funding is an important first step. Now we need to fund comprehensive sexuality education. And we need to re-frame the conversation around teen sexuality and pregnancy in a way that is respectful of young people’s intelligence, decisions, and humanity.

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20 Comments

  1. Alexander
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Awesome. Nothing else to say, just ’bout time.

  2. dcpirana
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Right on!

  3. Ori
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Fantastic! It’s so refreshing to have a sane president who isn’t in bed with the Religious Right.

  4. PamelaVee
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    This is really refreshing after seeing Bristol Palin and Hayden Panitierre (sp?) on that Candies teen pregnancy thing.

  5. ACP
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I am just SO happy about this!

  6. americanaexotica
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I also think that using the idea of pregnancy prevention puts all the focus, and most of the responsibility, back on girls. The fact of the matter is that boys carry STDs/STIs more than girls, and not stressing both the concept of safe sex and the idea of being responsible and being tested regularly are still going to have negative effects that will hurt everyone.

  7. PS
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    This is so past due it’s not even funny. I can’t help but think of the lives that have been affected negatively by the administration of the last 8 years’ innability to employ reason rather than some misguided religious agenda.
    Contrary to popular belief or political wrangling morality is NOT dictated by the Christian bible. What IS closer to a more moral position in this matter is the country’s new focus on giving everyone the right tools (ie education, funding, bc, morning after et al) to make their own informed decision.

  8. PS
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    This is so past due it’s not even funny. I can’t help but think of the lives that have been affected negatively by the administration of the last 8 years’ innability to employ reason rather than some misguided religious agenda.
    Contrary to popular belief or political wrangling morality is NOT dictated by the Christian bible. What IS closer to a more moral position in this matter is the country’s new focus on giving everyone the right tools (ie education, funding, bc, morning after et al) to make their own informed decision.

  9. PS
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    The presumption that education about sex and funding programs that educate the youth of this country will further perpetuate the current assumption that women take the brunt of the blame for STI/STD’s and teen pregnancy is off base.
    The consideration should be: how will this new funding or budget considerations help shatter these assumptions and place blame/responsibility on all sexually active persons ?
    It is removing the shame of sex and recognizing a part of the natural human condition. It confronts the issues associated with sex ie disease and pregnancy, while not discouraging women or men to have sex, rather educating them on how to practice safe sex. The funding is slated as “teen pregnancy prevention” and yet it encompasses so much more.
    To state that this is further perpetuating a myth that the responsibility of safe sex lies solely on the shoulders of women after what we as women have endured the last 8 years makes little sense. The new program does the exact opposite of what you suggest.

  10. EmilyKennedy
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Great point about the need to come to terms about teens having safe consensual sex Josh. This is the sticky topic that no one wants to touch, but it is quite possibly the most relevant for raising healthy happy people.

  11. EmilyKennedy
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Hey Josh, great point about the need to come to terms about teens having safe consensual sex. This is the sticky topic that no one wants to touch, but it is quite possibly the most relevant for raising healthy happy people.

  12. Ori
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    The issue even goes beyond teenagers having sex. Even if they are abstinent in their teens, teenagers will be sexually-active ADULTS someday and will need to be equipped with tools for negotiating safe, healthy sexual relationships. Contrary to what the abstinence-only folks think, people are not magically endowed with such skills the moment a wedding ring slides on their finger! Comprehensive sex education teaches students about honest and respectful sexual relationships, consent, STDs, contraception, and other skills and issues that they will need to cultivate healthy adult sexual relationships, within or without marriage.
    Another gripe that I have with abstinence-only programs is that they are oblivious to sexual violence and coercion. The argument that abstinence will protect someone from pregnancy and disease is correct unless they are a victim of sexual assault. Sexual education needs to address sexual violence prevention and define consent, not pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.

  13. Kris
    Posted May 15, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Oh, how I remember my abstinence-only health class in ninth grade. Thank you, President Bush.
    I would love to see people who work in education or have children report on whether their school’s policy changes. Ab-Only is horrifying in the abstract, but it’s even worse when you actually are the one getting the crappy, errorlicious education.

  14. markweee
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 5:48 am | Permalink

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  15. markweee
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 5:49 am | Permalink

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    Posted September 25, 2009 at 5:59 am | Permalink

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