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March 30, 2007

'Abstinence only' may end in Ohio

Columbus--Publicly-funded “abstinence only until marriage” sex education would become a thing of the past in Ohio classrooms under the governor’s new budget.

With his first proposed budget March 21, Governor Ted Strickland announced that the $500,000 Ohio spends to bring an additional $1.6 million of federal money for the programs can be put to better use.

“Abstinence only” sex education programs ignore lesbian and gay students who are prohibited from marrying. In nearly all cases, the programs are based on conservative Christian religious doctrine.

The federal Title V money being used in these programs has often been diverted from HIV prevention efforts, especially ones which target gay men.

Research is also showing that while the programs may influence some students who are already sold on their message to delay sexual activity, they are ineffective for the rest. They also prevent students from learning about methods to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

The latter is Strickland’s motivation for de-funding the programs.

“The governor believes that [abstinence only] is an unwise use of tax dollars at a time when we are in a challenging budget environment,” said Strickland’s spokesperson Keith Dailey.

Dailey said Strickland’s proposed budget, which totals $53 billion and is the state’s slowest growth budget in 42 years, has $700 million that will be reallocated to programs that are the administration’s priorities, including education, early childhood education and health care for children.

Dailey said Strickland supports comprehensive sex education that teaches about condoms and other ways to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancies in addition to encouraging young people to wait.

Strickland’s proposal could make Ohio the eighth state to pass on the federal grants, which forbid anything other than abstinence to be taught, or it could become a hot button issue pitting conservative Republicans who control the state legislature against the new Democratic governor.

Abstinence-only advocates and anti-gay groups are rallying Republicans to keep the programs. One lobbyist, working on behalf of the Family Research Council, is the Republican Strickland defeated for governor, Ken Blackwell.

“Young people of character can overtake the instinct to engage in premarital sex,” Blackwell told Ohio Public Radio.

Another lobbyist working to save the program is former Ohio Department of Health Abstinence Education program director Valerie Huber, who now works for the National Abstinence Education Association.

Huber was suspended by the department in 2006 when she was found guilty of ethics violations after she tried to direct state contracts to a company she was associated with.

Huber was represented in that matter by Columbus attorney Donald Brey of Chester, Wilcox, and Saxbe. Brey, an elections lawyer, also represents the Ohio Republican Party and Blackwell.

Comprehensive sex education supporters are lining up in support of Strickland’s proposal.

That coalition includes Equality Ohio, Planned Parenthood and the NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.

“Our young people need honest, medically accurate information,” says a written NARAL statement. “The Bush-backed ‘abstinence only’ approach intentionally misleads our teens and censors teachers from giving students the truth about contraception and other ways to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.”

The Akron Beacon Journal editorialized, “Strickland has looked at the facts and correctly decided to end funding for an approach that doesn’t produce measurable results.”

However, Dailey would not speculate as to how steadfast Strickland would remain on this once the budget negotiations with the legislature begin.

“All public policy will be approached with open heart and open mind as we work with the state legislature,” said Strickland. “Right now it is still early in the process.”



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