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Wanna Cut Wasteful Spending? Let’s Start with Abstinence-Only Education

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There is a giant disconnect at the intersection of sex education in America, the anti-choice/right to life movement (depends on your perspective) and the latest political fad to balance the budget, reduce the deficit and be fiscally responsible.

Not always, but generally, the same conservative politicians beating the drums for slashing the federal budget — including funding for Planned Parenthood — are the same politicians who believe that abstinence-only sex education can properly prepare the youth of America for the chaotic storm of sexual activity. They are also the first in line to champion the right to life.

And that’s where the disconnect occurs. The last set of statistics available demonstrate a correlation between the rise in teen pregnancies and abortion rates with the increase in federal funds for abstinence-only education during the eight years of President George W. Bush.

“The issue here is clearly that we have a lot of teenagers who are having sex, but they aren’t careful enough at contraception to avoid pregnancy,” says Sarah Brown, executive director of the nonprofit National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Chew on this: The United States has spent $1.5 billion dollars over the last 15 years for abstinence-only education, and it’s only resulted in an increase in teen pregnancy, and consequently, an increase in abortion rates. How does that justify the cost of the program?

Furthermore, among developed nations, the United States has the highest rates of both teen pregnancies and abortions (a combined rate of 86 per 1000 teens, which is far and away the highest), according to UNICEF.

A new bill, known as the Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act, introduced on Tuesday by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), would redirect $50 million spent annually on abstinence-only sexual education to the Personal Responsibility Education (PREP) program, which is “evidence-based, comprehensive sex education programs,” according to a release from Lautenberg.

PREP funds comprehensive sex education programs that provide both abstinence and contraception information to teens and educates them about preventing sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and unintended pregnancy, as well as life skills that help youth make healthy decisions.

The bill is especially important as difficult budget cuts are being made in Washington. And yet, even as abstinence-only education as seems to be an ineffective tool, the Washington Post reported last March, that a little-discussed provision in the health care overhaul legislation directed $250 million over the next five years for abstinence-only programs.

“We need to get serious about educating our young people about sex,” added Rep. Lee. “Abstinence-only programs fail to address the challenge of unplanned pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections among our youth, which have reached a critical level.”

The bill has received very few mentions in the “lamestream media,” and nowhere does there seem to be socially conservative politicians deriding the bill as a partisan move. Perhaps it’s a tacit acknowledgment that the money spent on abstinence-only education has been wasteful. Perhaps it’s a silent recognition that it’s a mistake to tell kids not to have sex and then take away their resources for dealing with unplanned pregnancies.

Regardless, the bill introduced by the two Democrats seems to be a step in the right direction for attempting to curb Washington’s budgetary woes as well as the rise in teen pregnancy, which results in more abortions. Something conservative Republicans should be able to get behind.

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