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SIECUS Joins 145 Organizations to Protest New HHS Website for Parents

March 31, 2005

Secretary Michael O. Leavitt

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Leavitt,

We the undersigned are writing to express our deep concern with the Department of Health and Human Services' recently launched website: www.4parents.gov . All of us agree that parents should be the primary sexuality educators of their children. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us to make certain that parents receive the accurate information and resources they need to achieve this difficult task. Unfortunately, 4parents.gov fails to meet these goals and instead, relies on fear to motivate and contains many errors and biases that undermine its intent of encouraging parent-child communication around sex and sexuality. This website presents biased and inaccurate information as fact and does not address the needs of many youth, including sexually active youth, youth who have been or are being sexually abused, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.

The website dictates values to parents rather than helping them to incorporate their own beliefs into discussions regarding sex and sexuality. For example, while discussing what they can do if their child has become sexually active, parents are told how to convince their teens to stop having sex by telling their children that they are “worth it.” No resources or suggestions are provided for parents whose teen remains sexually active, implying that these youth are not “worth it.” Another example suggests to parents that “always being prepared by having condoms” is a false sense of security, regardless of whether or not their teen is sexually active. Most parents want their young people to use condoms if they are sexually active.

Additionally, the website contains inaccurate information regarding the effectiveness of condoms and the ability of youth to properly use condoms and other forms of contraception. For example, 4parents.gov states that it is easier to prevent a teen's first sexual experience rather than to increase contraceptive use, research has shown that programs that include both messages actually effectively do both. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, condom usage among sexually active high school students has gone up almost twenty percent in the past two decades (from 46 percent to 63 percent). Messages to teens should encourage them to delay sexual activity and, when sexually active, to use condoms and other forms of contraception.

4parents.gov also contains a distressing lack of information for parents of sexually abused and assaulted youth. While it is commendable that the website includes some of the signs that a young person might have experienced sexual abuse in youth, it lists only one resource for parents, and this resource does not focus specifically on sexual abuse, but rather on all forms of child abuse.

The website also fails to address the unique needs of parents with LGBTQ children. Whenever 4parents.gov discusses LGBTQ youth, it uses outdated and alienating language and ideas. For example, it repeatedly uses the terms “alternative lifestyle” and “homosexual.” This language assumes that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) is a choice and also reduces LGB people to the mere equivalent of their sexual activity. The website also fails to include any information about transgender youth. Referrals for further information for LGBTQ youth and their parents are conspicuously absent.

The website also contains language that is clearly anti-choice in nature. For example, 4parents.gov states that “abortion complications” are one of the major reasons for infertility. In reality, less than 1 percent of women receiving an abortion experience any major complications. Further, the website omits the more likely causes of infertility, such as blocked fallopian tubes. In three other examples:

•  In its definition of menstruation, the website states that “if the egg is fertilized, this lining will nourish and protect the unborn child.” “Unborn child” is not medically correct language; embryo or fetus would be accurate.

•  The website defines abortion as “ending a pregnancy before a live birth occurs by removing the fetus or unborn baby from the uterus.” Again, there is an agenda inherent in the language used.

•  It is also extremely disturbing that 4parents.gov includes a radical change in the definition of pregnancy. The medically accepted definition, which HHS previously used, states that pregnancy begins at implantation. 4parents.gov claims that pregnancy begins much earlier, at fertilization. This departure flies in the face of the medical community, shows a blatant disregard for science, and is a clear attempt to insert anti-choice rhetoric into such straight-forward things as definitions.

Also troubling is that only one non-governmental organization is credited as having worked with HHS to create 4parents.gov—the National Physicians Center for Family Resources (NPC). The NPC represents views that are far outside the values of mainstream Americans and the public health community. To begin, the NPC has repeatedly asserted a false connection between abortion and increased risk of breast cancer and has advocated for non-science-based interventions such as abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. They have also said that teaching young people about contraception is a “prescription for continued disaster.” These are not messages supported by the public health community. Not surprisingly, the NPC has strong ties to right wing religious organizations, like the California Family Council, Alabama Family Alliance, and Focus on the Family and boasts of alliances with fringe medical associations and doctors such as the Alabama Physician Resource Council, the Physicians Consortium and Dr. Laura Schlessinger. By creating the website with only one organization—and one that has questionable credentials in this area—HHS has dangerously narrowed the information included on 4parents.gov and in turn, shortchanged the very parents the site is meant to serve.

We respectfully request that the 4parents.gov website be immediately taken down and that a formal review of its content and techniques for communication and behavioral learning be launched. This review should be done by a broadly accepted panel of experts in parent/child communication with well established credentials in this area. We also request any and all information related to whether or not a competitive process was used to choose NPC and the amount of taxpayer money, if any, NPC received for assisting in this effort.

We look forward to a response and to working with you further on creating a website that truly meets the needs of all parents and is based on the best available research.

Sincerely,

9to5, National Association of Working Women

ABCD Health Services (Boston, MA)

Abortion Access Project

Advocates for Youth

AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc.

AIDS Action Council

AIDS Foundation of Chicago

AIDS Project Los Angeles

AIDS Resource Alliance, Inc. (Williamsport, PA)

Alan Guttmacher Institute

Alaska Pro Choice Alliance

Alaska Women's Lobby

American Academy of HIV Medicine

American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists 

American Civil Liberties Union

ACLU Foundation of Southern California

American Counseling Association

American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR)

American Humanist Association

American Medical Student Association

American Social Health Association

Americans for Democratic Action

Berkshire Center for Families and Children (Pittsfield, MA)

Berkshire Coalition to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (Pittsfield, MA)

Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc. (Groton, MA)

Care Bearers (Yakima, WA)

Cascade AIDS Project (Portland, OR)

Center for Health and Gender Equity

Center for HIV Law and Policy

Center for Human Development (Pleasant Hill, CA)

Center for Reproductive Rights

Center for Women Policy Studies

Community Health Partnership of Little Rock, AR

Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)

Department of Community Health (William Paterson University, NJ)

Equal Partners in Faith

Exponents (New York, NY)

Family Planning Advocates of New York State

Family Planning Association of Northeast Ohio, Inc.

Family Planning of the Big Horns (Sheridan, WY)

Family Planning Services of Lorain County, OH

Feminist Majority Foundation

Feminist Women's Health Center (WA)

FutureNet–The Iowa Network for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, Parenting, & Sexual Health

The Gay/Lesbian Faculty/Staff Association (Montclair State University, NJ)

Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network

Gay and Lesbian Medical Association

Gay Men's Health Crisis

Girls Incorporated

Harm Reduction Coalition

Health Access and Privacy Alliance

Health Care of Southeastern Massachusetts, Inc.

Health Department of Ventura High School (Ventura, CA)

Health Initiatives for Youth (San Francisco, CA)

Healthy Teen Network

Human Rights Campaign

Human Rights Watch

Ibis Reproductive Health (Cambridge, MA)

Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health

Indiana Civil Liberties Union

Indiana Justice Fund

Institute for Reproductive Health Access

Latina Initiative (Denver, CO)

Legal Momentum

Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy

Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPPP)

Ms. Foundation for Women

National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum

National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health

National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA-US)

National Coalition of STD Directors

National Council of Jewish Women

National Education Association, Health Information Network

National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association

National Organization for Women

National Women's Health Network

National Youth Advocacy Coalition

NARAL Pro-Choice America

NARAL Pro-Choice New Jersey Foundation

NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina

NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin

Nashville CARES

Negotiating the Maze (Albany, CA)

New Morning Foundation (SC)

New York AIDS Coalition

Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry

Northwest Women's Law Center

Northwest Wyoming Family Planning

Ohio AIDS Coalition

Okanogan Family Planning (Okanogan, WA)

Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana

Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California

Planned Parenthood Association of Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Planned Parenthood Health Services of Southwestern Oregon

Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts

Planned Parenthood Northern Michigan

Planned Parenthood of Alaska

Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma, Inc

Planned Parenthood of Central Ohio

Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette (OR)

Planned Parenthood of East Central Illinois

Planned Parenthood of Hawaii

Planned Parenthood of Indiana

Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington

Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, NY

Planned Parenthood of Nebraska & Council Bluffs

Planned Parenthood of New Mexico

Planned Parenthood of Pasadena

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains

Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura & San Luis Obispo Counties (CA)

Planned Parenthood of South Central Michigan

Planned Parenthood of South Central New York, Inc.

Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona, Inc.

Planned Parenthood of Southern New Jersey

Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region

Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania

Population Connection

Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota

Program for the Study of Sexuality, Gender, Health, and Human Rights (Columbia University, NY)

Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Indiana

Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice of Massachusetts

Reproductive Health Technologies Project

Republican Majority for Choice (NY Chapter)

Sexuality Education for Life–Minnesota Coalition

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)

Six Rivers Planned Parenthood (Eureka, CA)

The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality

Sociologists for Women of Society

South Carolina Equality Coalition

Tapestry Health Services (MA)

TeachTheFacts.org (Montgomery County, MD)

Treatment Access Expansion Project

Tri-State Alliance for Gays & Lesbians (IL, IN, KY)

Union for Reform Judaism

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Washington County (Hillsboro, OR)

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

Urban Youth Development Academy

The Well Project

Women of Reform Judaism

Women's Coalition South Bay (Redondo Beach, CA)

Women's Law Project

Women's Resource Center, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

Young Parents' Education Center

 

Cc:

Dr. Alma Golden, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs

Wade Horn, PhD, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families

Michael J. O'Grady, PhD, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation

Dr. Cristina Beato, Acting Assistant Secretary for Health
National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education