The President in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday evening January 20, 2004 proposed a doubling of Federal funding for abstinence programs.
The President stated:
“To encourage right choices, we must be willing to confront the dangers young people face — even when they’re difficult to talk about. Each year, about 3 million teenagers contract sexually-transmitted diseases that can harm them, or kill them, or prevent them from ever becoming parents. In my budget, I propose a grassroots campaign to help inform families about these medical risks. We will double federal funding for abstinence programs, so schools can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually-transmitted diseases. (Applause.)
Decisions children now make can affect their health and character for the rest of their lives. All of us — parents and schools and government — must work together to counter the negative influence of the culture, and to send the right messages to our children.”
First, credit to the President for raising the issue of sexually transmitted diseases. I don’t recall any President raising this issue in a State of the Union Address. And also credit the President for making the link between STDs and infertility. I cover this at greater length in my book, “Beyond Choice”.
The Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report in July 2001 entitled, “The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior”.
The report was by no means an abstinence-only report. It discussed comprehensive sexuality education and condom use, as well as abstinence. Abstinence was not demanded until marriage by the Surgeon General, but only until an individual is in a “committed, enduring, and mutually monogamous relationship”.
The President has mostly ignored what the Surgeon General called for three years ago. But the President chose his words carefully.
Reading the text of the President’s message, he didn’t call for abstinence until marriage either. He only said that there be an abstinence message that it is the only certain way to avoid STDs. This is the same message that Planned Parenthood gives in every sexuality educatrion course.
But it is not enough. As I discussed in an earlier entry “Getting the ‘No’ out of North Carolina, abstinence-only not only does not work, it is dangerous. Abstinence funding will be increased to $270 million in 2005 according to the Washington Post. This is more than doubling by my calculation.
In a speech where the President barely mentioned the deficit of $500 billion a year and called for tax cuts costing $1.6 trillion over 10 years,a raise in abstinence only funding from $80 million to $270 million is a rounding error. To update Senator Dirksen, “a hundred million here, a hundred million there, pretty soon we’re talking real money”.
But the President also called upon Congress to be wise with the people’s money. Let’s hope they are and puts this proposal in the trash can, and raises the amount of funding for comprehensive sexuality education and services.