News & Politics

Trump Administration Is Aggressively Defunding Pregnancy Prevention Programs

Pushing abstinence-only sex ed denies young people of a basic human right.

Photo Credit: Syda Productions / Shutterstock

An authoritative update to a 2006 report on abstinence-only sexual education programs confirms that such programs fail to prevent pregnancy, waste federal funds and violate human rights. If only Trump hadn't cut $214 million in funding for teen-pregnancy prevention programs this past July while teen-pregnancy is at an all-time low.

The study, due to be published September 2017 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, confirms that Congress wasted $2 billion funding domestic abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs from fiscal years 1982 to 2017AOUM programs "are not effective in delaying initiation of sexual intercourse or changing other sexual risk behaviors," the report states.

They are also a human rights violation because the programs deny teens information about birth control, condoms and sexually transmitted diseases. The study notes, "AOUM programs, as defined by U.S. federal funding requirements, inherently withhold information about human sexuality and may provide medically inaccurate and stigmatizing information."

The international community advocates for the right to sexual health information in order to effectively prevent HIV/AIDs and STIs, as well as unwanted pregnancies. According to a 2003 comment made by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, governments must "ensure children have the ability to acquire the knowledge and skills to protect themselves and others as they begin to express their sexuality."

Most men and women are engaging in more premarital sex, and AOUM programs deprive them of the information to practice safer sex. Demographics shows that people are getting married later, while the age for their first sexual encounter remains about the same. Recent data shows that for women, the median age for first sexual encounter is 17.8 years, followed by marriage at 26.5 years. For men, the first sexual encounter is at 18.1 years and then later marriage happens on average at 29.8 years. That’s a gap of 8.7 years between sex and marriage for women, and 11.7 years for men.

John Santelli, one of the co-authors and professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, told Forbes, “These programs simply do not prepare young people to avoid unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.”

Much of the problem around abstinence arises from its two common definitions—one more scientific, the other moral. Health professionals view abstinence as the absence of sexual intercourse—pretty straightforward. AOUM program supporters, however, view abstinence as a religious issue, defining it as a "commitment to chastity." This could be especially harmful for minority youth who may identify as LGBTQ.

In a released statement, Leslie Kantor, the study's coauthor and the vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, further explains, "Withholding critical health information from young people is a violation of their rights. Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs leave all young people unprepared and are particularly harmful to young people who are sexually active, who are LGBTQ, or have experienced sexual abuse." 

President Trump has filled the Department of Health and Human Services with abstinence-only and false science supporters. Tom Price, the new Secretary, has defended defunding government assistance for contraceptives, saying "there’s not one" woman who can't already afford them.

Valerie Huber, the HHS' new chief of staff, is also the president of Ascend, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for abstinence-only education.

Trump recently allocated $85 million to AOUM programs; meanwhile, Planned Parenthood continues to face threats of losing its federal funding, if Trump's health care legislation could ever pass. One in five women visits Planned Parenthood in her lifetime. It's not too difficult to see which program is more useful, without violating human rights. 

Julia Flasphaler is a junior writing fellow for AlterNet interested in trauma, gender and race. She is a senior English Literature major at Columbia University. Follow her at @juliaflafla.

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