Outside editorial: Abstinence-only programs are waste of taxpayers' money

Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2007

President Bush has proudly increased the funding for abstinence-only sex education programs since taking office. He is pushing Congress for an additional $28 million for 2008 to add to the $175 million spent last year.

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Now comes the news that for the first time in 14 years, the birthrate for American teenagers increased last year.

A coincidence? Only those who still believe in the stork think so.

The Bush administration should bear the blame for the inevitable consequences of the 3 percent increase in the teen birth rate: a growing number of teen moms who will not finish high school and who will likely end up on welfare.

Congress for too long has allowed the president to get away with a health-care policy based on ideology rather than science-based evidence. It needs to block further increases in funding for abstinence-only programs.

Teaching teens about the value of abstinence and how to deal with social pressures should be part of all sex education programs. But repeated studies show the most effective programs are those that promote abstinence while also providing contraceptive information.

Teens in Europe are as sexually active as those in the United States. But the teen birth rate in Europe is about half what it is here, in part because of the success of their comprehensive sex education programs.

Some 1 million American teens get pregnant every year, and roughly half of them are 17 or younger when they become pregnant. The chance of a teenage girl finishing high school after becoming pregnant is well under 50 percent.

At least California has proved it knows better. It was the first to decline the federal money for abstinence-only sex education. It will be interesting to see, when the numbers for each state are released, how California's teen birth rate compares with states that accepted federal money.

The ultimate responsibility for teenagers' behavior falls to teens themselves, and to the parents who raise them. But many children don't get much guidance from home, even in families with means. There is a public interest in preventing teen pregnancy because it leads to a drain on public services.

This country has an obligation to offer teens the best sex education programs available. That has to include teaching them about contraception in case they choose to become sexually active.

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