Frist Supports Review of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs But Avoids Addressing Inaccuracies

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) acknowledged that abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula used by federally funded programs should be reviewed. The issue was front and center as a result of a report released on December 1 by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA). The report found that 11 of the 13 most popular curricula used in federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs contained "unproven claims, subjective conclusions or outright falsehoods regarding reproductive health, gender traits and when life begins."1

Sen. Frist discussed the Waxman Report on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos on December 5th. During the interview Sen. Frist stated that the government had a responsibility to review the federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. In answer to Stephanopoulos' question of whether the programs should be required to give out scientifically accurate information, Frist responded that providing information on abstinence, condoms, and even the flu are valid health challenges that deserve governmental attention.2

Despite this admission, Sen. Frist did little to address the medical inaccuracies found in many of the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Stephanopoulos quoted one of the reviewed abstinence curricula's suggestions that tears and sweat could transmit HIV/AIDS. Sen. Frist originally responded that he "didn't know" if this was true and only after much badgering from Stephanopoulos did he agree that "it would be very hard" to infect someone through tears or sweat.3 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV."4 Sen. Frist also stated that condoms have a known failure rate of 15 percent.5 Again the CDC provides very different statistics that show consistent and correct condom use is associated with a much lower failure rate of 2 percent.6

Sen. Frist, a physician, has been studying or practicing medicine since 1974 and "has written more than 100 articles, chapters, and abstracts on medical research."7 The biography on his website also mentions that he is "particularly passionate about confronting the global AIDS pandemic" and makes frequent medical mission trips to Africa to "perform surgery and care for those in need."8

Despite his medical background and passion for public health issues, Sen. Frist was criticized by many HIV and health organizations for his comments during the interview. In response to Sen. Frist's comment on the transmission of HIV through sweat and tears, Wahaeedah El-Shabaz, a person living with HIV from ACT UP Philidelphia said, "A simple 'no' was the responsible answer. We are working on the front lines, trying to correct dangerous myths about HIV transmission. But Dr. Frist's comments endorse these myths and undermine our efforts to protect people from HIV infection. He should be sent back to medical school if he can't get his facts straight about HIV transmission."9

Sen. Frist's comments on the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs come just weeks after the passage of the omnibus appropriations bill (H.R. 4818), which increased annual funding for these programs to $167.5 million from $138 million in Fiscal Year 2004.

"While we agree with Senator Frist that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs must be reviewed, his attempts to deny that some information presented in these programs was simply false were inexcusable," said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. He continued, "Our young people deserve better sexuality education and as a country, we need political leaders who strongly believe this, not those who defend the indefensible."

See the transcripts from "This Week with George Stephanopoulos:".

More information on Rep. Waxman's Report on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

References

  1. Henry Waxman, The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs (December 2004) accessed 12 December 2004.
  2. "This Week with George Sephanopoulos," ABCNews, (5 December 2004) accessed 12 December 2004.
  3. Ibid.
  4. HIV and Its Transmission, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (22 Septermber 2003) accessed 12 December 2004.
  5. "This Week with George Sephanopoulos," ABCNews, (5 December 2004) accessed 12 December 2004.
  6. HIV and Its Transmission, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (22 Septermber 2003) accessed 12 December 2004.
  7. About Senator Frist, Office of Senator Bill Frist, accessed 12 December 2004.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) "Orgs Denounce Frist's HIV & Condom Inaccuracies," Press Release published on 9 December 2004, accessed 12 December 2004.

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