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Groups File Formal Complaint Against Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs

Based on a growing body of evaluations and reports, SIECUS and Advocates for Youth filed a formal challenge to the government’s funding of inaccurate and ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Under the guidelines set forth by the Data Quality Act of 2000, the two groups filed the complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on September 13 th challenging the quality of data and information disseminated through programs funded by the federal government’s Community-Based Abstinence Education (C-BAE) account which is run by the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) under HHS.

A Data Quality Act challenge directs the Office of Management and Budget to issue government-wide guidelines that “provide policy and procedural guidance to Federal agencies for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information (including statistical information) disseminated by Federal agencies” on the particular issue put forth in the complaint. In their challenge, SIECUS and Advocates for Youth called for an immediate “review [of] all abstinence-only curricula and materials used by its grantees,” for the government to “purge or correct all inaccurate and false information included therein,” and for the government to discontinue sponsorship of “programs that fail to provide medically accurate, complete sexual health information.” To ensure compliance within the Data Quality Act, the complainants demand that, “the Department of Health and Human Services and the Administration of Children and Families sponsor under the C-BAE program only those grantees that provide medically accurate and complete sexual health information.”

Written by a conservative lobbyist and quietly slipped into a 2000 appropriations bill without Congressional discussion, the Data Quality Act was originally intended as a means to censor information about public health risks that might otherwise result in restrictions on big business. According to Kevin Freking of the Associated Press, “about three-quarters of the challenges made under the two-year-old Information Quality Act have come from industry groups concerned about regulations,”1 and the application of the law by SIECUS and Advocates for Youth is a unique one.

“Turnabout is fair play,” said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth. “We’ll use this and any other tool at our disposal to ensure that youth receive honest and accurate sex education,” Wagoner continued.

ACF currently funds over 100 C-BAE grantees to conduct abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. A congressional study commissioned by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) found that 11 of the 13 curricula most commonly used by these grantees contain false, inaccurate, or incomplete information. Federal policy indicates that all publications, curricula, audio visuals, and other materials disseminated with federal grant monies must first be reviewed and then approved by the granting agency. The challenge states that, “As such, the Administration for Children and Families is accountable for curricula used by its C-BAE grantees and is therefore, in violation of the Data Quality Act of 2000… ACF’s dissemination of inaccurate and misleading information about the prevention of teenage pregnancy, HIV and other STDs through its C-BAE grantees jeopardizes the trust American’s place in our federal public health agencies and endangers the health and well-being of America ‘s youth.”

“Those who make the rules must abide by the rules,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. “HHS’ own guidelines were specifically designed to ensure that only high quality and scientifically sound data is disseminated to the American public,” Smith continued.

Opponents of a comprehensive approach to sexuality education called the challenge “baseless” and “misleading.” Leslee Unruh, president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse said of the challenge, “these false allegations show promiscuity promoters are up against the ropes…Abstinence is healing the emotional hurt brought on by unmarried sex.”2

Smith, on the other hand, believes, “the false and inaccurate information found in these abstinence-only-until-marriage programs is harming youth across the country. It is about time that the government stops pouring millions of dollars into programs that are medically inaccurate, biased, and clearly in violation of the Department of Health and Human Services’ own directives.”

The two groups have yet to receive a response from the government.

For more information about the congressional study on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs commissioned by Representative Waxman, please visit:



  1. Kevin Freking, “Groups Challenge Abstinence-Only Curriculum,” Associated Press, 13 September 2005, accessed 29 September 2005, <>.
  2. Abstinence Clearinghouse, “Biased Groups Challenge the Wrong Programs, Says Abstinence Experts,” Press Release published on 14 September 2005 .