General Articles

ACLU, Advocates for Youth, and SIECUS Call on Government to Stop Funding Medically Inaccurate and Incomplete Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs

On April 26, 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Advocates for Youth, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) sent a letter and supporting materials to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Michael Leavitt identifying several federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that include medically inaccurate information in violation of federal law.  The groups called on HHS to immediately remedy the violations or face a legal challenge from the ACLU.

“HHS cannot justify giving teens incomplete and misleading information about how to protect themselves against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection, including HIV,” said John Santelli, MD, MPH, Chair of the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University and the author of a declaration documenting the medical inaccuracies in the federal programs, which accompanied the groups’ letter.  “The evidence is clear: when used properly condoms are highly effective.  This is vital information that should be part of all sexuality education programs.”

The letter to HHS enumerated that three federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula, Me, My World, My Future; Sexuality, Commitment & Family; and Why kNOw, along with HHS’s own website and pamphlet, Parents, Speak Up!, are all in violation of federal law requiring that certain educational materials contain medically accurate information about condom effectiveness.  In addition to the letter, the groups submitted supporting materials, including Santelli’s declaration.

“This is not the first time HHS has been asked to address serious problems in federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs,” said Julie Sternberg, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and author of the letter.  “The federal government’s insistence on putting ideology before teenagers’ health has to stop.”

The letter to Secretary Leavitt notes that in October 2006, the Government Accountability Office informed HHS that its federally funded programs are bound by the Public Health Service Act, which requires medically accurate information about condom effectiveness in certain educational materials.  Because HHS failed to adequately respond to the GAO’s concerns, its federally funded programs continue to feature inaccurate and misleading information, the groups said.  The letter discusses several other instances in which problems with federal abstinence-only programs have been brought to HHS’s attention to little or no avail.

“The issue at hand here is quite simple: government funds should not be used to support deliberate deception,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS.  “If HHS refuses to provide accountability and continues to violate basic values, we’ll force them to do right by the American people.”

To view the full letter, click here:
To view the full declaration, click here: