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New Mexico Abstinence Coalition Sues Governor for Allegedly Withholding Information about Abstinence-Only Funds

The New Mexico Abstinence Coalition recently sued Governor Bill Richardson claiming that the state is withholding information about how it spends federal money for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  On December 11, a lawyer for Laurel Edenburn, president of the board of directors of the New Mexico Abstinence Coalition, filed a lawsuit in state District Court in Sante Fe challenging the way that officials have responded to her request for information.1

After concerns about the content of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, the lack of evidence that they work, and numerous complaints about the medical inaccuracies within the curricula used by funded programs, the New Mexico Department of Health took the bold step in April 2006 of restricting all Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding to grades six and below.2  According to the secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, Michelle Luhan Grisham, “the most effective way to protect kids is to discourage them from engaging in sexual activity. However, the reality is some adolescents do engage in sexual behavior. To be cognizant of that fact and do nothing about it is unconscionable. We want to make sure all of New Mexico’s children know how to protect themselves if they become sexually active.”3  The Bush Administration, staunchly defending the primacy of its own dictates on abstinence and marriage promotion, has maintained that New Mexico is out of compliance and that schools in New Mexico would lose federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs if they continued to limit the funds to programs for sixth grade and younger. 

According to The New Mexican, federal officials have said that abstinence-only programs are more appropriate for older students.  Lujan Grisham has said she will challenge the decision because older students who need more comprehensive programming that including information on condoms and safer sex.4

Edenburn said that when she requested information on how the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funds were being spent, state officials gave her some of the records but declined to give her all of the financial records and withheld some information in the files, expunging information they claimed was confidential, privileged, or otherwise protected from disclosure.  Edenburn maintains in the lawsuit that the state’s open-records act requires disclosure of state expenditures.

In a written statement, the Governor’s office said, “We are currently reviewing the complaint,” adding, “We provided her with more than 100 pages of documents in a timely, expedient manner.”5 

Edenburn filed a similar lawsuit on March 31 against Lujan Grisham that is pending before state District Judge Daniel Sanchez. The new lawsuit is directed at Governor Richardson as the custodian of the records sought. Sanchez will also hear this new complaint.

“Edenburn is a fanatical one-woman crew on a fast sinking ship in New Mexico,” said William Smith, vice president of public policy at SIECUS.  “New Mexico’s citizens and leaders have rejected the extremism of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and sided with every major public health entity in the country and with the vast majority of Americans themselves,” Smith continued.

References

  1. Tom Sharpe, “State under fire from abstinence group,” The New Mexican, 15 December 2006, accessed 18 December 2006, <http://www.freenewmexican.com/news/53711.html>.
  2. New Mexico Department of Health, Press Release published on 8 April 2005, accessed 19 April 2006 <http://www.health.state.nm.us/pdf/PR-05-abstinence-04-07.pdf>.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Tom Sharpe, “State under fire from abstinence group.”
  5. Ibid.

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