It's Time for Sarah Palin, John McCain, and the GOP to Abstain From Abstinence-Only Education—It Doesn't Work

One lesson we can draw from the Palin problem—abstinence-only does not work.

By SHARE

Sen. Barack Obama took the high road in refusing to answer reporters' questions about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's pregnant 17-year-old daughter Bristol and the girl's decision to marry the father and have the baby.

He also drew a distinct boundary line between legitimate topics for policy discussions by politicians and urged the media to leave politicians' families alone.

I respect his wishes, but Gov. Palin's family situation and how she was chosen by Sen. John McCain to join the Republican ticket still present issues worthy of debate among pundits if not politicians.

The first and most obvious is her support for abstinence-only education in public schools and how well it seems to have worked within her own family.

As a clarion-clear advocate of abstinence-only education, Palin explained on an Eagle Forum (ultraconservative women's group) questionnaire during her 2006 gubernatorial run: "The explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support."

Yet her teen daughter's premarital sex ought to act as a beacon to backers of abstinence-only supporters that abstinence-only education is, er, abortive. Nonetheless, Congress and the Bush and Clinton (yes, Clinton) administrations doled out 1.5 billion taxpayers dollars to states to teach high school students only about abstinence and nothing about biological sex education between 1996 and last July. Advocates for Youth, which supports comprehensive sex education for high school students, looked at five years of data from states that teach abstinence-only and reported the following:

  • Three of six (abstinence-only) programs had no impact on sexual behavior (California, Maryland, and Missouri).
  • Two of six programs reported increases in sexual behavior from pre- to post-test (Florida and Iowa). It was unclear whether the increases were due to youth's maturation or to a program's effect, as none of these evaluations included a comparison group.

For his part, Sen. McCain has voted to boost abstinence-only funding, to end federal family planning funding, and against teen pregnancy prevention programs. His running mate's family problems should send a laserlike message to McCain and other social conservatives they need to stop allowing their religious convictions to fog their thinking and they should start to rally around effective social policy, sex education included.