Special Report

Yes on Abstinence

Just saying no is not what the ACLU, PBS, and Joycelyn Elders want to hear.

By 6.30.05

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Joycelyn Elders is back. She never quite disappeared, but the battle over abstinence education programs makes her comments last Saturday especially timely. "The vows of abstinence break far more easily than a condom," she said at Meharry Medical College in Tennessee. "Masturbation has never given anyone a disease," Elders observed to the learned audience. "And you know you're having sex with someone you love."

A decade ago, Elders's version of sex education embarrassed Bill Clinton enough that he had to show her the door. But now his ousted Surgeon General would make a fine spokeswoman for the anti-abstinence education movement, which is gaining speed, thanks to the ACLU, PBS, and the Playboy Foundation.

The ACLU last week launched a new website, Take Issue, Take Charge, urging local activists to promote "reproductive freedom" and oppose abstinence education. Also last week the Public Broadcasting Service began airing a "documentary" critical of abstinence education called The Education of Shelby Knox, complete with a companion website touting "safe sex" and the work of anti-abstinence researchers. Shelby Knox, according to PBS's website, is a Southern Baptist girl who becomes "an unlikely advocate" for "comprehensive" sex ed. The ACLU prominently features this PBS movie on its website. Persistent doubters of PBS's liberal bias, please stand up after watching this documentary.

The recent excitement of anti-abstinence activists is likely the result of increased funding for abstinence education. Both the ACLU and PBS report with alarm that appropriations for federal abstinence education programs have increased under Bush, from $80 million in 2001 to well over $100 million today. Reports on exact numbers are conflicting, but the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education budget the House passed last week earmarks $115 million for 2006, an $11 million increase.

The ACLU portrays its campaign against abstinence education as part of its longstanding drive to bleach any mention of faith from the public square. A press release notes its (unsuccessful) attempt to try and shut down a Louisiana state website on which some participants discuss God.

The ACLU's PR campaign reveals the separation of church and state as a means toward the libertine ethos Joycelyn Elders envisions. Take Issue, Take Charge's tag line is "Life, Liberty, and Reproductive Freedom," and its primary blogger, Rachel Hart, is formerly of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. To the ACLU, sex ed is inseparable from abortion-on-demand and forcing hospitals to provide "reproductive health services."

The anti-abstinence movement is also backed by The Playboy Foundation, a primary contributor to the PBS movie. Another major player to which the ACLU links is the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), which argued in a 2002 release, "In a free democratic society, sex education shouldn't be censored." The NCAC is backed by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, Catholics for a Free Choice, the Lamda Legal Defense Fund, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, the NOW Legal Fund, the National Education Association, and the Sexuality Information & Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS), among others. SIECUS counts among its contributors the Ms. Foundation, the Turner Foundation, and Jane Fonda.

The groups arrayed against abstinence education cite "research" of the shoddiest quality. Take Issue, Take Charge presents four sources as "evidence" against abstinence education: tendentious poll data claiming a majority of American parents support comprehensive sex ed, a Rep. Henry Waxman report, an Advocates for Youth study (tactically renamed from the "Center for Population Options"), and the Bruckner and Bearman study on the results of abstinence education.

In the April issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers Hannah Bruckner and Peter Bearman claimed, based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, that adolescents who made virginity pledges are just as likely to have sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in adulthood. Even though "consistent pledgers" had a lower STD rate than non-pledgers and "inconsistent pledgers," Bearman and Bruckner reported the difference as not "statistically significant."

The Washington Post gave the study page A3 treatment by star reporter Ceci Connolly upon its release in March. Both the Post and the ACLU have yet to note a Heritage Foundation study reexamining Bearman and Bruckner's numbers and finding that their results were skewed. In a paper presented earlier this month, Heritage researchers Robert Rector and Kirk Johnson argued that "virginity pledging was found to be a better predictor of STD reduction than was condom use" and that virginity pledgers were 25 percent less likely to have an STD as young adults.

Parents should pay attention to this debate. It could determine whether your children learn about morals from you or Joycelyn Elders and the Playboy Foundation.

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About the Author

David Holman is a reporter for The American Spectator.