Comprehensive sexuality education has become a visible part of two electoral races as candidates view such programs as an effective way to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions.
In Texas , Chris Bell, a pro-choice Democratic candidate for Governor, is advocating for comprehensive sexuality education in schools and improved healthcare for low-income women in order to reduce the number of abortions performed in Texas.1 At a campaign stop before the Hill Country Democratic Women's Club, he stated, “[ Texas has] the second-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. It's easy to blame a high school girl for getting pregnant, but when Texas is competing with the likes of Mississippi in teen pregnancy, we need to take a hard look at what we are teaching these kids.” Bell added that teaching young people comprehensive sexuality education is the morally courageous stance.2
In Pennsylvania , anti-choice Democratic senatorial candidate, Robert P. Casey has also stated his support for comprehensive sexuality education as well as emergency contraception and family planning. Casey follows in the footsteps of other Democratic leaders such as Senator Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who is also anti-choice but supports effective preventive measures. Indeed, when questioned about his anti-choice positions, Casey consistently focuses instead on his support for preventive measures as a way to differentiate his beliefs from those of his opponent.
Both candidates come from states where abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are well funded. In 2005, organizations in Texas received over $16 million in federal abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. And, although Pennsylvania does not currently receive Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding, many abstinence-only-until-marriage organizations in Pennsylvania receive funding through two other federal funding streams and federal earmarks. These earmarks set a precedent for the federal funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs when in federal Fiscal Year 2003 Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) secured approximately $3.15 million within the Omnibus Appropriations bill. This was the first time a member of Congress earmarked money for specific abstinence-only-until-marriage programs outside of traditional federal funding streams. These earmarks continued for Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005.
In addition, both states have reviewed their abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and found them to be ineffective. In 2003, Pennsylvania 's evaluation found that, “taken as a whole, this initiative was largely ineffective in reducing sexual onset and promoting attitudes and skills consistent with sexual abstinence. There were, however, a few programs that were able to achieve moderate outcomes with younger youth which may serve as potential models for promoting sexual abstinence...Even within these programs, however, the effects were relative and not absolute.”3 In Texas , a 2004 evaluation included five self-selected “abstinence education” contractors who participated in a study conducted by researchers at Texas A&M University.
Analysis found that there were “ no significant changes ” in the percentages of students who “pledg[ed] not to have sex until marriage.”4 In addition, the percentage of students reporting having ever engaged in sexual intercourse increased for nearly all ages between 13 and 17. Notably, prior to participating in an abstinence-only-until-marriage program, 23% of ninth grade girls had engaged in sexual intercourse, but following the program, 29% of the same age group reported having engaged in sexual intercourse. In addition, tenth grade boys reporting sexual intercourse increased from 24% to 39% following abstinence-only-until-marriage instruction.
These two races reflect the nation's wide-ranging support for comprehensive sexuality education as well as the complexities of sexual and reproductive health and rights issues in elections. Even in states where research has shown abstinence-only-until-marriage programs to be ineffective, these programs continue to receive large amounts of funding and candidates must take a strong stand to support the science in the face of ideology.
- Roger Croteau and Gary Scharrer , “ Bell offers initiatives to reduce abortions,” Express News, 15 December 2005, accessed 14 January 2006, <www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA121505.05B.abortion.177ab2b9.html>.
- Edward Smith, Jacinda Dariotis, Susan Potter, Evaluation of the Pennsylvania Abstinence Education and Related Services Initiative: 1998-2002 , ( Philadelphia , PA : Maternal and Child Health Bureau of Family Health, Pennsylvania Department of Health, January 2003) 10, accessed 15 April 2005, <www.dsf.health.state.pa.us/health/lib/health/familyhealth/evaluationpaabstinence1998-20021.pdf>
- Patricia Goodson, et al. Abstinence Education Evaluation Phase 5: Technical Report (College Station , TX : Department of Health & Kinesiology – Texas A&M University, 2004), 170-172. Emphasis included in original document.