Kentucky’s Abstinence-only Programs Raise Concerns

Abstinence-only-until-marriage progams come under fire

Abstinence-only-until-marriage progams come under fire

Our friends at the Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice have been talking to us about a report from SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, on the status of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Kentucky. It’s a picture that raises a number of concerns.

The abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in use in the state substitute for comprehensive sexuality education, which is not required by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The programs have not been shown to be effective in accomplishing the purposes for which educational programs aimed at young people presumably are undertaken: getting young people to delay sexual activity, reducing numbers of teen pregnancies, reducing rates of sexually transmitted diseases. Popular curricula do, however, incorporate religious messages in ways that make the school systems in effect supporting one particular religious outlook over others, violating the constitutional protection of religious freedom. They also use fear- and shame-based appeals to convince young people that sexual activity before marriage will hurt them and their chances for a normal, happy life in the future. Many emphasize the use of virginity pledges. (SIECUS’ summary profile of Kentucky recaps many of these highlights. Details are in the full report.)

A further concern is that the federal money for these programs comes with strings attached. The Commonwealth of Kentucky must spend money to get it. At present, the Commonwealth meets its obligation by funding Crisis Pregnancy Centers — agencies that represent themselves as helping women in crisis, but which do so by restricting these women’s access to information about and access to options other than carrying their pregnancy to term. That is, they aim to control women’s decisions about their reproductive life by controlling women’s access to the facts.

We can’t help but see this situation as a problem.

We can’t help but see state sponsorship of particular religious positions as a bad thing — for the church. (After all, the Barmen Declaration is part of the constitution of the PC(USA). It seems we should have learned by now that ultimately, the more the church depends upon the state to promulgate its message, the more the state will demand of the church in the way of support for its positions. That’s a bad bargain.)

We can’t help but see the use of an educational curriculum that doesn’t accomplish its stated purposes, and that reinforces gender stereotypes and dispenses misinformation in the process, as unacceptable.

A coalition of groups is forming to call on the Commonwealth to say “no” to the money it receives for these problematic abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. A preferable alternative could be education focused on prevention, in the context of faith-based organizations themselves –the option KRCRC supports.

We’ve heard that Congress may be considering prevention-oriented alternatives as well, in the form of H.R. 819, the Prevention First Act, which was introduced in this session. (More on H.R. 819, Prevention First Act)

Stay tuned for more.

[Source for the graphic: Advocates for Youth]

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