Hearing Highlights Ab-Only Industry In Peril

Last Wednesday, Congress held the first ever oversight hearing on the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry. It's about time. These programs have been around for over a quarter century and consumed nearly $2 billion in federal and state tax dollars. After all the grousing about the bias of the hearing from the right wingers who support the abstinence-only-until-marriage approach, one might ask: If the programs are so great, why did the Republicans never hold similar hearings to champion their success? The answer: It would have been laughable.

And so it was last week when one lone researcher working from his home-based "institute" tried to outwit the major public health institutions of our country. By his own words, Stan Weed, the only witness last week suggested by the Republican minority to scientifically defend the Bush administration's funneling of billions to their favored kin, has spent more than 20 years working on these issues, interviewed more than 500,000 teens, and studied more than 100 abstinence-only programs. Okay, it sounds impressive, right? Until you learn, that after all that bluster, Weed has just one – ONE – peer reviewed and published study in a refereed journal showing abstinence-only-until-marriage programs can have a modest impact among seventh graders in delaying sex. And with that, Weed urged – straight-faced – to continue the gravy train that is the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry.

It should also be noted that Weed's guest on his back-up chair while testifying was not an assistant at his "institute" or some other public health professional. It was the head of the National Abstinence Education Association, the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry's lobbying arm, Valerie Huber. For what purpose did the researcher need the hired gun lobbyist at his side? Her presence stretched the credibility of Weed's objectivity, to say the least.

On the side of public health evidence, however, were the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, the Society for Adolescent Medicine and many others. All concurred that more than a decade worth of research demonstrates that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are not working and a change in course is long overdue.

The clear imbalance left some right-wing Congressional Members scrambling during the hearing.

Representative Mark Souder (R-IN), one of the most extreme right wing lawmakers in the Congress, praised Weed – the man with thread-bare credentials who works out of his home – as the lone voice of sound public health in the room. As for the real luminaries at the witness table with Weed, Souder charged all of them with advancing ideological positions. He might as well have decried the entire thing a vast left wing conspiracy among the protectors of our public health and left the room.

Representative John Duncan, a Republican from Tennessee, said it was "rather elitist" that those with public health degrees thought they knew better than parents what type of sex education works. Well, yes, Mr. Duncan, isn't that why we fund and support public health as a vocation – to assist individuals, parents and families in promoting good health practices? And isn't this why the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on which you sit, has jurisdiction over health programs and spending? The entire purpose is to consult those who actually "know" in order to arrive at informed decisions instead of opinions formulated from ignorance. One can reject their findings – as Mr. Duncan did – but it ought to be done honestly and with full confession for a "science-be-damned" mentality.

Duncan and Souder however, were left with little else to rely on. The evidence is in and the programs were finally called to account for the boon they've experienced at the taxpayer's expense. In desperate times, people do desperate things and Duncan and Souder were headed down that sad road.

For those present at the hearing, there was no more desperate a sign of the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry's questionable future than Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector's attempts at spin. Rector, credited as the architect of the state grants through Title V to pay for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, tried valiantly to stave off the hearing's impact. The day prior, he and another colleague at Heritage, attempted some up-front spin by assembling and regurgitating previous so-called "evidence" to support their position. At the close of the hearing, a crest-fallen and clearly annoyed Rector was observed to be expressing his deep displeasure to Representative Souder for apparently failing to carry the Heritage Foundation's banner. It almost made me feel sorry for Souder. Almost. Perhaps I actually would have if Souder had not earlier told the two youth witnesses on the panel – one of whom acquired HIV due to abstinence-only-until-marriage instruction – that they were irrelevant to the purpose of the hearing. Far from laughable, this was downright appalling.

What was most miraculous at the hearing was just how much had been conceded by the supporters of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Next week, I'll be writing about this in terms of the key pieces of good news that emerged from the Congressional hearing and will answer the most consistent question I've gotten since the hearing: So what does this mean? I assure you, it was a lot more than just words that came out of last week.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact press@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • invalid-0

    Excellent (and hilarious) article. And I applaud your framing of ab-only as an industry, b/c that’s EXACTLY what it is.

  • invalid-0

    Great article, funny and priceless. It’s about time that AB only eudcation is brought to a halt. Few parents want their teens having sex before marriage, but it happens. AB only education mainly targets females and condemning them to the ravages of unprotected sex, like STDs and pregnancy. Of course, if girls were taught how to prevent pregnacy, the adoption money machine would shut down along with the AB only money machine (industry). Wonder how much money is involved in the Adoption industry, uh, billions? There are laws that even open records can’t be looked at by people who want to see their “real” birth certificate. Fake women’s clinics are funded to feed the adoption industry. I bet that AB only education is a product to feed the adoption industry. Why do women have to navigate thru all this crap to find out real and useful information? Makes me sick.

  • invalid-0

    The adoption industrialist-profiteers will claim to value life and love children. They will claim to be “protecting women” (from our own decision-making process, apparently). They will, like most religion addicts or mouthpieces who profit from religion, do and say anything for a buck, no matter how much they lie or who it may hurt.

    Reminds me of a lawyer I knew in Pennsylvania, where I grew up. He knew my dad was a Bush supporter, and assumed (wrongly) that like father, like daughter. This guy took me aside one day, told me to go to law school and learn the ropes of the adoption industry (he was working on his fourth summer home at the time). He told me he would place business cards with little angel graphics on them in churches with the words “compassionate adoptions” and such on them. When a “mark” responded (usually a teenage girl from a less than well-to-do family) he would pounce, perform the whole “Jeeezus loves you but don’t kill your baby you slut” crap routine and when the usual couple hundred thousand dollars from the back-door gifts and other unauthorized “fees” had all changed hands, he’d then “donate” a small portion of his profits to the church where the mark had seen his card. It was his way of giving back to the system that had made him a millionaire. Using Jeezus to line the pockets, well, that’s hardly a new one in the U$A.

  • invalid-0

    Well I guess beauty and truth are in the eyes and understandings of the beholder! I attended the same hearing and it was clearly a day that exposed the failure not of Abstinence Education but of Condom-based sex ed that pretends success while having but one paltry study showing only minimal success. As Dr. Weed, who you disparage mostly because he doesn’t hold your views, demonstrated by a factual presentation reviewing your research. His findings went uncontested by your stacked “expert” panel. And, your dismay at the abstinence lobby’s “hired gun” is laughable.Especially when SIECUS, PP, and Advocates for Youth have an obvious juggernaut lobbying campaign across the nation to bring down Abstinence Education. And as your witnesses parroted your talking points I would say your interests were more than represented. Get real,Bill!

  • invalid-0

    Since we seem to be on a first name basis, it would be appropriate to disclose who you are exactly Wiiningwell?

    My comments about Dr. Weed have nothing to do with the views he may hold. In fact, I assume he and I both want young people to be abstinent as long as possible. It has to do with the credibility of his research and his credentials when he is set alongside the major public health institutions of this country and their representatives. It is about the quality, weight and preponderance of the evidence that is at question here and no one could walk away from the hearing with any misgivings that Dr. Weed and his findings looked underwhelming at best. When set against fellow witnesses, including the head of the Institute of Medicine, it was, as I wrote, laughable.

  • invalid-0

    “My comments about Dr. Weed have nothing to do with the views he may hold.”
    Now that is truly laughable.And regarding the credibility of his research, may I remind you that the strongest points he made were on the dearth of your research-a stunning lack of “preponderance of the evidence”. You engage in a selective science that has nothing to do with what works to reach teens as so poignantly displayed when all but one of your panel answered “no” to the funding of abstinence education that was effective in reducing pregnancy and STD’s. That was a telling, checkmate moment at the hearing. So save your claim of supposed noble intentions to help youth remain abstinent. Like I said before, Bill-get real! Oh by the way,as to my identity-just part of the great right wing conspiracy!

  • invalid-0

    It is a shame that in your desperation to save a failed industry, you:
    1) dodge the entire issue that the hearing was an oversight hearing on the efficacy of federally funded ab-only money. Like Weed, you attempted and failed at a blue smoke and mirrors strategy to discuss comprehensive sex education instead of defending your own programs.
    2) show the darkness in your own heart by disparaging and questioning a shared vision that we all want the best for our young people and simply disagree on the path to get there. Moreover, you tell me to save my “supposed noble intentions” which speaks volumes about your own character. That is sad.
    3) like the National Abstinence Education Association’s post-hearing e-mails about the so-called “check-mate moment,” you fail to mention a follow-up question that shed further light on the “no” responses being primarily that the public health community — in solidarity — has serious ethical concerns about these programs because they withhold life saving information. Chopping of a hand may prevent theft but we don’t do it because of ethical concerns. The same applies here.
    4) consistently refer to “your” as in “your research” and “your panel.” SIECUS does not conduct research on these types of programs but reports on the findings of public health experts that are qualified. And it was these same health professionals that constituted the hearing panel that was assembled by a Congressional committee.

    I know none of this will convince you one way or the other, but I do think it is important to clarify a few points in hopes that some semblance of honesty enters into your anonymous missives.