The Personal Responsibility Education Program, created through the recently enacted federal health care reform law (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), provides individual states with grants for comprehensive sex education.
PREP is designed to provide young people with information that a vast majority of parents want their kids to receive. Its programs must include information on both abstinence and contraception. It also provides information on healthy relationships, positive self-esteem, adolescent growth and body image. Its holistic approach gives young people a broad range of healthy life skills, such as goal setting, decision making, negotiation and stress management.
All at no cost to the states! Sounds good, right? Not to Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
He’s decided to turn this program away in favor of failed abstinence-only policy, for which the state of Minnesota will shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the face of a $6 billion state budget shortfall for the next biennium, it is utterly irresponsible and illogical to turn away nearly $1 million in federal funding for services that are desperately needed and wanted by our community.
‘Poor fiscal and public health policy’
Abstinence-only programs have been sharply criticized by scores of established and respected medical organizations. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has called for the termination of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs because they represent “poor fiscal and public health policy.”
Likewise, the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Society of Adolescent Medicine, and American Psychological Association have all raised serious and persistent ethical concerns about the support for such programs.
In its policy statement on abstinence-only programs, the American Public Health Association states: “While good patient care is built upon notions of informed consent and free choice, [abstinence-only] programs are inherently coercive by withholding information needed to make informed choices.”
Those with accurate information have better outcomes
Young people have a right to accurate, complete information to help them postpone sexual activity and protect themselves when they become sexually active. Data conclusively show that those who get medically accurate information about sex, along with information about contraception, are more likely to delay intercourse than those who receive abstinence-only messages; they also are more likely to use contraception if and when they do become sexually active. Research has repeatedly found that teens who report that they received comprehensive sex education are 50 percent less likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy.
Gov. Pawlenty needs to face facts: Nearly half of all Minnesota teens are sexually active by their senior year of high school. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, there were more than 75,000 teen births in Minnesota between 1991 and 2004, costing taxpayers an estimated $2.3 billion.
It isn’t fiscally sound or morally responsible to deny young people the information they need to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of infections that can lead to infertility, chronic illness and even death. Sadly, the steepest price for Gov. Pawlenty’s political gamesmanship will be paid by Minnesota’s young people.
Sarah Stoesz is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.