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States refraining from abstinence-only sex education

Refuse to accept dictates made by White House

(Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press)

LOS ANGELES -- In an emerging revolt against abstinence-only sex education, states are turning down millions of dollars in federal grants, unwilling to accept White House dictates that the money be used for classes focused almost exclusively on teaching chastity.

In Ohio, Governor Ted Strickland said that regardless of the state's sluggish economic picture, he simply did not see the point in taking part in the controversial State Abstinence Education Grant program anymore.

Five other states -- Connecticut, Rhode Island, Montana, New Jersey, and Wisconsin -- have dropped out of the program or plan to do by the end of the year. The program is managed by a unit of the US Department of Heath and Human Service.

Strickland, like most of the other governors who are pulling the plug on the funding, said in pulling out of the program last month that it has too many restrictions and rules to be practical.

Among other things, the money cannot be used to promote condom or contraceptive use and requires teachers to emphasize ideas such as bearing children outside of wedlock is harmful to society and "likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects."

And, according to the governor's spokesman, Keith Dailey, Strickland sees little evidence that the program has been effective.

"We've spent millions of dollars on such education since Ohio first started getting grant money in 1998," Dailey said. "If the state is going to spend money on teaching and protecting kids, the governor believes it's better to spend it in a smarter, more comprehensive approach."

That states are declining such funding alarms abstinence-only groups, which insist that cutting off this source of revenue will close dozens of nonprofit sex education groups and undermine the progress they have made to fight teen pregnancy and curtail the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

States have used the money to help public and private schools start and run educational programs, develop classroom instruction for nonprofit groups, and pay for advertising and other media campaigns.

"There are kids who don't want to know how to put on a condom, because they don't want to have sex," said Leslee Unruh, president and chief executive of the South Dakota-based National Abstinence Clearinghouse, the nation's largest network of abstinence educators. "So why can't kids who want to abstain have equal time, funding, and education in the classroom as kids who are having sex?"

To critics, the policy shift addresses growing concerns that sexually active youths are not getting access to medically accurate information about the use of contraceptives and disease prevention.

In an Oct. 3 report that surveyed abstinence programs in 10 states, the Government Accountability Office concluded that such programs have not proven to work, and at times teach children medically inaccurate about condoms and AIDS.

The report found that in one instance, materials used in the class "incorrectly suggested that HIV can pass through condoms because the latex used in condoms is porous."

In another program, children were wrongly taught that "when a person is infected with the human papilloma virus, the virus is 'present for life.' "

"Just saying no is not working," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.