Experts from the American Public Health Association and U.S. Institute of Medicine testified before Congress on April 23 that scientific studies have found that abstinence-only teaching programs have failed to cut pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases or the age when sexual activity begins.
The American Psychological Association and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued concurring statements to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform criticizing the Republican Party favorite abstinence-only programs suggesting not only did they fail at their stated tasks, they actually made things worse.
In reading coverage of the hearings I thought I spotted a fascinating moment of unvarnished truth coming from a Bush Administration lackey, Charles Keckler of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Media coverage suggested that Keckler "said the Bush administration believes abstinence education programs send the healthiest message."
Amazing I thought. Here is someone admitting that it isn't the lack of results that count; not the total failure of the program to achieve any of the stated results it was funded by taxpayer money to accomplish. No, it was all about the message. Sending the right message is more important than tangible results. Here I was thinking that Keckler had let a key play from the Bush game plan slip out.
Sending the right message to whom one might ask? Clearly not teens. Statistics indicate that they aren't listening. No, the Bush administration remains focused on sending the right message to the religious right that has become the Republican party base, at the expense of fiscal conservatives.
Of course, being the responsible person I am (or try to be anyway), I read Keckler's actual testimony. Not quite what I was led to believe from the coverage. What Keckler said was:
"The Administration believes that the abstinence education program sends the healthiest message as it is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases."
Similar, but not the same. He tied the importance of "message" to the efficacy of abstinence. I didn't have the admission I was looking for. However, I did find one just as good that basically meant the same thing. Keckler followed the statement above with this revelation:
"The great majority of American parents agree: a 2007 poll conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that 90 percent of teens aged 12-19 and 93 percent of adults agree that it is important for teens to be given a strong message that they should not have sex until they are at least out of high school."
There you have it. Even though abstinence-only education is a complete and total failure, because both parents and teens say in polls that a strong 'wait until you are out of high school message' is important the Bush Administration is going to hold its ground.
I'd love to ask those same parents and teens some follow-up questions, not that it would matter. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy remains unhindered by their remarkable failure. Instead, they have expanded their mission to "also focus on reducing the high level of unplanned pregnancy in the United States among adults, especially those under 30 where the vast majority of unplanned pregnancies occur." Get ready for more failure! (Apparently it polls well inside evangelical mega-churches in Texas.)