On Thursday, October 24 th , New Jersey's Governor John Corzine (D) rejected federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in New Jersey.1
Fred M. Jacobs, Commissioner for the N.J. Department of Health and Senior Services, and Lucille Davy, Commissioner for the N.J. Department of Education, informed the federal government of the state's decision in a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt. According to the letter, the federal government's abstinence-only-until-marriage guidelines contradict the core curriculum content standard in comprehensive sex education that New Jersey has had in place for more than 25 years. Moreover, the governor's office cautioned that accepting federal abstinence-only dollars may, in fact, cost the state money because students may require additional sexuality education to clarify the partial and misinformation that is taught in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.2
New Jersey has received abstinence-only-until-marriage funding since 1997. In past years, the federal government allowed states the flexibility to run programs in a way that was consistent with their core curriculum content standards. One of the reasons Jacobs and Davy cite for rejecting Title V funds this year is the new requirement that states adhere to all eight points of the federal government's definition of “abstinence education” leaving them with no flexibility to determine the best approach for New Jersey students and putting them out of compliance with their own state education standards. The letter explains “…strict adherence to all of the elements of the Title V abstinence education program is not consistent with the Comprehensive Health and Physical Education standards and New Jersey's AIDS Prevention Act of 1999.”3
Recently, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, in one of the most exhaustive reviews to date of government-funded abstinence-only programs, rejected the current administration's policy that promotes abstinence as the only sexual health prevention strategy for young people. The study examined federal abstinence-only-until-marriage policy and determined that such programs are an infringement on young people's basic human right to the highest attainable standard of health. The authors recommend that federal funding for the programs be redirected to comprehensive, medically accurate sexuality education.4
This report, along with Representative Henry Waxman's (D-CA) report on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the United States, found that many abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula used by federally funded programs contain false and misleading information and perpetuate harmful stereotypes.5 Alarmingly, these curricula also misrepresent the effectiveness of contraceptives by vastly understating the effectiveness of condoms in protecting against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and preventing unintended pregnancy.6 Such misinformation is particularly disturbing given that each year in the United States, nearly 9.1 million young people ages15–24 are infected with a sexually transmitted diseases and more than 800,000 young women ages 15–19 become pregnant.7
New Jersey joins other states like Maine and California in turning away federal monies that require unproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs be taught to young people. ”New Jersey's decision to reject the dictates of Washington ideologues in favor of its own state laws sends a clear message that Washington should stop playing politics and give states the flexibility to craft and fund programs that meet their own needs in helping youth make good decisions,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.
- Letter from Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D., Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Health and Services and Lucille Davy, Commissioner for the New Jersey. Department of Education to Secretary Michael Leavitt, The United States Department of Health and Human Services, 24 October 2006
- John Santelli, et al., “Abstinence-Only Education Policies and Programs,” Journal of Adolescent Health 38 (2006): 83–87, accessed 13 November 2006, <http://www.adolescenthealth.org/
- Ibid.; The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs (Washington, DC: U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform — Minority Staff, Special Investigations Division , 1 December 2004) accessed 13 November 2006, <http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/Documents/20041201102153-50247.pdf>.
- Santelli; The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs.
- Hillard Weinstock, Stuart Berman and Willard Cates, Jr., “Sexually Transmitted Diseases Among American Youth: Incidence and Prevalence Estimates, 2000,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 36.1 (January/February 2004): 6-10, accessed 1 November 2006, <http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3600604.html>.