Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Bush and Abstinence Programs

For those of us who have been wondering whether Bush is really on the so-con bandwagon or was just pretending to be in order to court their votes in the last election, here is one bit of evidence for the first conclusion:

President Bush’s re-election insures that more federal money will flow to abstinence education that precludes discussion of birth control, even as the administration awaits evidence that the approach gets kids to refrain from sex.

Congress last weekend included more than $131 million for abstinence programs in a $388 billion spending bill, an increase of $30 million but about $100 million less than Bush requested.

Now, this is a relatively cheap and easy way to appease the religious wrong, so it’s not proof of anything. But as usual, it’s a cheap and easy way to appease people whose views are utterly irrational, resulting in policies that make no sense. The article notes that abstinence programs were begun in 1996, but teen pregnancy and teen sexual activity had already been going down for several years by that point, and the evidence says that abstinence programs simply don’t work:

Ten state evaluations, compiled by a group that opposes abstinence-only education, showed little change in teens’ behavior since the start of abstinence programs in 1997.

There is an HHS study going on to evaluate the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education, but the results have been delayed until 2006. That hasn’t stopped the Bush administration from plowing forward though. And just look at this breathtaking bit of illogic from the official in charge:

“We don’t need a study, if I remember my biology correctly, to show us that those people who are sexually abstinent have a zero chance of becoming pregnant or getting someone pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted disease,” said Wade Horn, the assistant secretary of Health and Human Services in charge of federal abstinence funding.

Well no, you idiot, but the study isn’t about whether abstaining from sex will avoid pregnancy, the study is about whether telling kids to abstain from sex will make them abstain from sex. Let’s call this Exhibit A in the case against abstinence-only programs – if you’re forced to make arguments that freaking stupid to defend your policy, your policy is a really bad idea. Want Exhibit B? Check out this explanation for why the state by state studies that show abstinence-only programs don’t work should be ignored:

Leslee Unruh, president of National Abstinence Clearinghouse in Sioux Falls, S.D., said those state programs are not true abstinence programs because they talk about delaying sexual activity, but not specifically waiting until marriage.

Okay, let’s think about this. Unruh’s position is that if you tell them not to have sex for a shorter period of time – until adulthood, for instance – it won’t work and kids will continue to have sex. But if you tell them not to have sex for a longer period of time, until marriage, then they’ll stop having sex. This is like saying, “If you tell people not to pee and just to hold it for the next 24 hours, they can’t do it. But if you tell them to hold it for a week and not pee, then they won’t pee.” I’ll take non-sequiturs for $1000, Alex. I rest my case against these programs, but I’ll let James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth give the closing argument:

“The only 100 percent way to avoid a car collision is not to drive, but the federal government sure does a lot of advocacy for safety belts.”

Game, set, match.

Comments

  1. #1 OGeorge
    November 27, 2004

    Perhaps they feel that this type of program works best from the top down Ed. Abstinence from thought, leads to abstinence from logic, leading to adstinence from reality.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    November 27, 2004

    OGeorge-

    Dammit, I wish I’d thought of that line.

  3. #3 Reed A. Cartwright
    November 27, 2004

    There is an article on the SecWeb about abstience education. It makes a good point that the failure rate of abstience as a birth control method is undefined. Failure rate is defined by #preg/#sex, but with “successfully practiced” abstience the denominator is zero and thus the fracting is undefined.

    Even abstient women can get pregnant, if they happen to be raped, a fact often overlooked by abstience only programs.

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