Craig Richardson's article has a roundup of the Waxman Report attacking abstinence education programs and the positive coverage the report received in the media. He also has some criticisms of the report, which I highlight below.
The Waxman report received strong criticism too. Alma Golden, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement the same day as the report’s release. She noted the Waxman document “misses the boat. These issues have been raised before and discredited.” She added, “Unfortunately what they continue to do for purely political reasons is to take issues and information out of context to try and discredit abstinence education, which is a disservice to our children. 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 and the emotional, social and educational consequences of teen sexual activity.” Golden adds, “Studies show, as does my own experience as a pediatrician, that abstinence works especially when combined with the involvement of parents in educating their children about what expectations they have and the setting of boundaries of behavior.”
The Heritage Foundation’s Melissa G. Pardue released a critique of the report entitled, “Waxman Report Is Riddled with Errors and Inaccuracies.” In it, she noted the liberal representative’s document is “yet another attempt by aggressive proponents of comprehensive sex education to discredit and undermine the message of authentic abstinence education.” She found after careful review that the Waxman report “is riddled with errors and inaccuracies about the effectiveness of abstinence education and the risks associated with early sexual activity.”
She said Waxman ignores the fact the federal government in 2002 “spent $12 promoting contraception and condom use for every $1 it spent to encourage teens to abstain from sexual activity.” Waxman himself has a long record of opposing abstinence spending.
Pardue also takes exception with Waxman’s claim there is no link between teen sex and increased risk of attempted suicide. She cites data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Wave II, 1996). In its analysis of this data, Heritage found that sexually active girls are more than three times as likely to be depressed and nearly three times more likely to try suicide than girls who are not sexually active. Boys who are sexually active are more than twice as likely to be depressed and eight times more likely to attempt suicide.
About Waxman’s claim that abstinence programs are ineffective, Pardue says this is simply not true. “There are currently 10 evaluations showing the effectiveness of abstinence education in reducing teen sexual activity. Of these 10 evaluations, four were published in peer-reviewed journals.” She cites a 2003 study published in Adolescent and Family Health that found “increased abstinence was the major cause of declining birth and pregnancy rates among teen girls.”
She also takes Waxman to task for his claim that virginity pledges are not effective with teenagers. According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Wave III, 2001), “teens who take a virginity pledge have substantially lower levels of sexual activity and better life outcomes when compared to adolescents who do not make such a pledge.” Specifically, teens who make the pledge are one-third less likely to experience teen pregnancy. They are also less likely to give birth as teens or young adults, to give birth out of wedlock, to engage in risky unprotected sex, and they will have almost half as many sexual partners as non-pledgers.
Most importantly, Purdue points out that Waxman ignores the fact that parents “overwhelmingly support the values and messages of authentic abstinence education.” Citing a January 2004 Zogby poll, she says:
• 91 percent of parents want schools to teach that “adolescents should be expected to abstain from sexual activity during high school years.”
• 79 percent of parents want teens taught they should not engage in sexual activity until they are married or at least in an adult relationship leading to marriage.
• 68 percent of parents want sex education programs to teach that “individuals who are not sexually active until they are married have the best chances of marital stability and happiness.”
• 91 percent of parents want teens taught “the best choice is for sexual intercourse to be linked to love, intimacy, and commitment. These qualities are most likely to occur in a faithful marriage.”
Purdue adds the types of comprehensive sex education programs that Waxman and his supporters favor “are rejected and opposed by nearly all parents.” They focus almost exclusively on contraception and cover very little if any abstinence training. The courses also contain graphic language that is inappropriate for students and adults.
Previous Heritage Foundation studies found these types of programs “contain little, if any, encouragement to delay sexual activity. On average, these curricula devote only 4.7 percent of their page content to the topic of abstinence and zero percent to healthy relationships and marriage.”
Pope Paul VI foresaw in 1968 how contraception would usher in a moral and societal breakdown when he released his famous and prophetic encyclical, Humanae Vitae. “Let them first consider how easily [contraception] could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings — and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation — need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.”