Fact-Based Sex-Ed Needed In Schools

May 9, 2007

NEWARK, N.J. -- The American Civil Liberties Union today announced a multi-state action calling on the federal government to fix medical inaccuracies in federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula. Eleven ACLU affiliates sent letters to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services alerting the agency to problematic curricula in their states and asking HHS to take steps to remedy the situation.

"States all across the country, including New Jersey are telling the government enough is enough," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "It is time for the federal government to start properly monitoring the content of the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that it funds."

In New Jersey, the Peer Challenge program is of particular concern. The Peer Challenge curriculum inaccurately states that condoms fail to prevent pregnancy one-sixth of the time, and that the failure rate for preventing sexually transmitted disease is "far worse" because both sexes can get sexually transmitted diseases. It falsely states that "[s]ome of the latest findings are revealing up to a 45% condom failure rate in preventing the transmission of the deadly AIDS virus," and that condoms provide "little or no protection" against herpes and HPV. It claims that the "term safe sex is actually a myth" and that "condoms have a 16% failure rate for preventing pregnancy during the first year of use and in some groups of teenagers this failure rate rises to 36%. So the odds are good that pregnancy will eventually result even while using condoms."

In 2005, the most recent year for which information could be obtained, Peer Challenge was offered in the North Wildwood School District, Middle Township School District, Ocean City School District, Lower Cape May School District, Upper Township School District and Wildwood City School District.

Today's action comes on the heels of an April letter the ACLU sent to HHS, which said three federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula, Me, My World, My Future; Sexuality, Commitment & Family; and Why kNOw, along with HHS' own 4parents.gov Web site and pamphlet, Parents, Speak Up!, all violate a federal law requiring certain educational materials to contain medically accurate information about condom effectiveness. In that letter, the ACLU called on HHS to immediately remedy the violations or face a legal challenge.

"It is clear from today's action that federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula across the country contain medically inaccurate information about the importance of condoms in preventing pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted disease," said Julie Sternberg, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "Spreading misinformation about condoms in many abstinence-only-until-marriage programs violates federal law and endangers teens' health."

The ACLU affiliates participating in today's action include: Alaska Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Arizona, ACLU of Florida, ACLU of Illinois, ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, ACLU of Kentucky, ACLU of Louisiana, ACLU of New Jersey, Rhode Island ACLU, ACLU of Tennessee, and ACLU of Texas.

Last week, the ACLU asked HHS and the Oregon Department of Human Services to investigate evidence of misuse of taxpayer dollars to promote one faith over others in an abstinence-only-until-marriage program Stop and Think. The ACLU threatened to pursue legal action if sufficient measures are not taken to correct any problems.

In early April, a federally commissioned study by a Princeton, N.J., think tank was released showing that, notwithstanding the more than a billion dollars that the federal government has poured into the programs since 1996, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs don't work. The study looked at several federally funded programs and found that teens who participated in them were just as likely to have sex as teens who did not participate. Furthermore, these students had first intercourse at the same age and the same number of sexual partners as students who did not participate.

Currently, no federal funds are dedicated to supporting sexuality education programs that both teach abstinence and include complete and medically accurate information about how to use contraceptives effectively, despite evidence that these programs can delay sexual activity and increase contraceptive use among teens.

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