Why Won’t Illinois Turn Down Abstinence-Only Money?

Recently, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of
the United States (SIECUS) contacted both Governor Blagojevich and the
Secretary of the Department of Human Services, Carol Adams, to urge Illinois to
join the national tide moving across the country where states are telling
Washington "no thank you" when it comes to taking taxpayer money to run failed
abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. To date, 25 states have turned down
the money, citing the clear and compelling evidence that shows these programs
do not work.

is becoming an island unto itself in promoting these extreme programs. The
neighboring states of Iowa, Minnesota
and Wisconsin
are just a few of the principled states siding with every major public health
entity in this country in closing down these programs. Sadly, Illinois persists. In Fiscal Year 2008, the
state of Illinois
accepted over $1.8 million in abstinence-only-until-marriage funds through a
federal funding stream known as Title V. So the question is:  Why?

Perhaps the state’s decision to continue accepting Title V
abstinence-only-until-marriage funding is based on the private interests of
certain people involved in the movement in Illinois. Not only does Illinois receive one of the largest chunks
of abstinence-only-until-marriage funds, but it hosts two of the largest
providers of the curricula which seep into schools, organizations, and
after-school programs nationwide. For example, Scott Phelps, who got his start
in anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers in the Chicagoland area, is the founder
of the Abstinence and Education Marriage Partnership in Wheeling, and co-author of three of the most
popular abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula, Game Plan, Aspire, and Navigator

Project Reality, based in Glenview
and one of the oldest abstinence-only-until-marriage industry leaders
nationwide, distributes Phelps’s fear- and shame-based Game Plan curriculum. Illinois
supplied Project Reality $81,560 in Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage
sub-grant funding in Fiscal Year 2008. But, starting on December 15, 2008,
Project Reality will close its doors and merge with Phelps’s group, marking an
important combination of the resources and people of the two largest
abstinence-only-until-marriage providers in the state. Phelps will continue to
be the leader of the Abstinence and Education Marriage Partnership.      

Despite his extreme views, Phelps seems to have unabated
access to the Illinois Department of Human Services, the agency which is
responsible for the distribution of Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage
funds. Specifically, Anna Maria Accove, the Title V
abstinence-only-until-marriage coordinator for Illinois,
has apparently kept Phelps updated on SIECUS’ research and requests for
information, as documented on the Parents for Truth Illinois
. (SIECUS regularly contacts all coordinators in every state).  Why is a state employee disclosing this
information to a grantee if not to assist that grantee in continuing to feed at
the trough?  Whatever the case, it is
unethical at best.

In addition to strong ties with two of the largest
abstinence-only-until-marriage industry leaders in the country, Phelps also
helped found the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA), the lobbying
arm of the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry.  Among other activities, the NAEA propagates
misinformation campaigns about the content and effectiveness of comprehensive
sexuality education programs.

Make no mistake, Game
represents the extreme and dangerous approach that has left our young
people vulnerable to making poor decisions. 
For example, Game Plan
teaches: "Even more widespread than
disease are the emotional scarring and deep wounds that come out of broken
relationships. No matter how strong a condom is, it won’t protect you from a
broken heart" (p. 36).  Another example
directly from the curriculum reads, "The only safe sex is in a marriage
relationship where a man and a woman are faithful to each other for life" (p.

The problem, of course, is that even though we can encourage
teens to wait to have sex, we have to make sure we send messages that don’t
undermine their ability to make good, responsible decisions when they do have
sex.  These examples from Game Plan do just the opposite; they
persuade young people that there is no other option but to have sex in a
marriage between two heterosexual people. Perhaps a worthwhile goal, but
unfortunately, one that doesn’t pan out in reality.  In the third century, Saint Jerome wrote endless letters to women
about how to keep their virginity and this is the same mantra now funded with
tax dollars.

For her own part, Illinois’
Secretary of Human Services, Carol Adams, replied to SIECUS’ questioning about Illinois’ dogged support
of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs by writing:

"The Department of
Human Services supports a myriad of services designed to address the goals of
reducing teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.  The Abstinence Education Program is part of
the continuum of services designed to address these goals.  We are also supportive because the Abstinence
Education Program addresses youth development through the promotion of life
skill development." 


The problem? 
Secretary Adams is wrong on the facts. 
Research shows that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs do not offer
any real "life development" skills. The U.S. Department of Health and Human
Service’s own study of federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs
conducted by Mathematica
showed no delay in sexual initiation, reduction in sexual partners, or improved
used of contraception.

Dr. Adams continues, "Many
communities are in favor of this approach."

There are surely some
individuals in support of these programs–but every major public health,
medical, and education entity supports a comprehensive approach to sex
education: the American Medical Association, American Public Health
Association, The Society for Adolescent Medicine, and the National Education
Association are just a few. Statewide polling shows that over 83 percent of Illinois voters and 92 percent of Illinois sex education teachers believe that
whether or not young people are sexually active, they should be given accurate
information about birth control and condoms according to research from the Illinois Campaign for
Responsible Sex Education

In addition to funding Project Reality with Title V
abstinence-only-until-marriage dollars, Secretary Adams’ department funds four
crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs)–anti-choice establishments that typically advertise
as providing medical services and then use anti-abortion propaganda,
misinformation, and fear and shame tactics to dissuade women facing unintended
pregnancy from exercising their right to choose. CPCs fail to offer young
people any real information to make healthy decisions-yet the Secretary awarded
nearly $250,000 towards these establishments in Fiscal Year 2008 alone. 

If the goal is to reduce teen pregnancies and STDs in
Illinois, the state must follow the national trend–not buck it–and halt taxpayer
funding for extreme abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Such action will provide
additional relief to the rest of the country and help end the gravy train for
one of the most extreme providers nationwide, Project Reality. According to
SIECUS’ State Profile research, the two curricula sold by Project Reality are
used in at least 15 states. By supplying funds for Project Reality, Secretary
Adams is not only putting Illinois
youth at risk, but financially backing one of the worst abstinence-only-until-marriage
curricula nationwide. 

Finally, Secretary Adams and Governor Blagojevich need to
know that in every instance, the 25 states that have ended these extreme
programs have done so without any political fallout whatsoever. Our leaders
should lead. But they are more likely to do so when it is the safer option
politically. Ending Illinois’
subsidy of the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry is the politically safe
option. Let’s get it done.

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  • invalid-0

    I understand that as people we all have different views and beliefs when it comes to sexual education, but i do think that your opinion is a bit one sided. Choosing to get rid of it would make it unfair for those who support it… in a time where people are fighting for civil rights and liberties your blog may be seen as less than tolerant of those who oppose you.

  • invalid-0

    You should take the time to actually read the curriculum all the way through , or better yet go to class where it is being taught. You will see that is it neither fear or guilt based. Try setting your teens at a higher standard, they are able to save sex for marriage. There was a study done asking adults at what age teens should start having sex, their response was 18. Teens were asked the same question and their response was 23. It’s interesting that parents are setting such low standards for their kids. Even if abstinence education is only delaying sex, it is doing a lot more for teens than comprehensive sex education. In one of the books for comprehensive sex education it lists things that teens can do with each other besides having sex. That list includes bathing together, watching pornographic films, and mutual masturbation. How exactly does that keep a teen from wanting to have sex?

  • invalid-0

    “Project Reality, based in Glenview and one of the oldest abstinence-only-until-marriage industry leaders nationwide, distributes Phelps’s fear- and shame-based Game Plan curriculum.”

    Have you actually perused this curriculum? They are not rooted in shame and fear. They all include factual and current information from reputable sources such as the CDC, Gutemacher Institute & the National Campaign to End Teenage Pregnancy.

    A health educator’s goal is to promote to students the safest and healthiest lifestyle possible, which means the protection from emotional, financial, mental social & physcial consequences risky behavior may bring about.

    In the state if IL, health educators MUST teach comprehensive sex education, which includes contracepive &/condom usage, as according to the state learning standards. The educator presents abstinence as the healthiest lfestyle (which it is, that is not a statement rooted in opinion; rather in common sense).

    As an educator that has seen the number of students that are sexually active declining, abstinence progams are effective and not inclusive.

    Please get your facts straight.

  • invalid-0

    the issue is not what is included in the curriculum but what is not included. According to the Illinois Campaign for Responsible Sex Education, Project Reality’s "Game Plan" curriculum does not include information on:

    "…sexual anatomy, contraceptive options and information, information on
    testing and treatment for STIs, sexual orientation, information on
    sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault and dating violence, and
    prevention information for students who have already become sexually

    Comprehensive sex-ed offers information on abstinence as a method of preventing pregnancy and STIs and discusses healthy relationships with oneself and ones’ peers. I have provided comprehensive sex ed to young people and am amazed by the questions they have. 

    Abstinence only programs simply do not offer effective or appropriate sexual health education to our young people. Parents can encourage abstinence in their teens if that is what they choose; parents can choose for their children not to participate in sex ed when it is offered in schools. But it is dangerous and ineffective not to provide our young people with the tools, information and resources to understand their bodies, their relationships, their lives and to prepare our young people for healthy sexual relationships in the future – no matter if they are gay, straight or choose not to partner currently or in the future. 

    Amie Newman

    Managing Editor, RH Reality Check

  • invalid-0

    As someone who HAS sat through these classes in my Highschool, I can tell you it IS based on fear and guilt, especially for the girls having sex. They make you feel like you are a slut, you are dirty, and no man will want you if you’ve ever loved a man before. it does nothing to address the teens ALREADY having sex, or gay teens, who can never get married, and it outright LIES about the effectiveness of birth control and condoms. i don’t believe the ends justify the means and i think it is IMMORAL to lie to our children.

    sure, people can save sex for marriage if they got married at 18, or 23. but realistically, marriage lasts longer if we don’t marry young, if we wait till we are out of college. the only thing encouraging kids to marry young does, is encourage divorce and child pregnancy. (i believe child pregnancy is not the best thing for the child, even if the child is married.)

    even if you wait till marriage, you will STILL need to know how to have safe sex and control your reproduction. A wedding ring does not replace condoms or birth control. most people do not want one child every year of their reproductive lives, and will need CORRECT information to prepare for their sexual health, whether this is in marriage or not.

  • invalid-0

    Even though a program has been omited doesn’t mean that those who support it still can’t do with out having the wasteful program! Why do you need a program that tells you NOT to have sex beofre marriage? BUT you do need to know there are Other resources out there to help you get on with your life..

  • betty-brown

    see, that’s what so many abstinence-only people fail to accept.  telling teens that sex is for marriage only does NOTHING to stop their hormones, nor does it stop them from wanting to have sex.  why is this so hard for so many adults to accept?  

    my dad took off when i was 11, and my parents had yet to give us the "sex talk".  i was already aware of it, thanks to t.v. and movies.  and my mom, who was raised strict irish protestant, never mentioned sex, ever, to me or my sisters, except for a few times when she told each of us individually that it is a sin to have sex outside of marriage.  in 10th grade health class our sex ed consisted of one day where the teacher passed out single page mimeographed pages from some booklet.  they just dealt with female and male gentalia, pregnancy, masturbation, and the teacher was cool enough to bring in his own info about homosexuality.  he was open-minded enough, way back in 85, to explain to us that being gay was normal, that people are born that way (yea mr. kuzma! i bet he helped save a few kids from any extra anxiety over their sexuality).  anyhow, let me tell you, being brought up  where sex is only mentioned in the context of when it’s "wrong" or "sinful" is one sure way to "f" a person up for a long time.  it took me quite some time, well into my mid-20’s, before i was able to work out my issues, before i fully accepted that sex is one of the most normal human drives that there is.

    and while i’m sure that not every abstinence-only program frames sex in a negative way, i still think it’s unhealthy to tell kids that sex is for marriage only.  am i the only adult who can recall the hormones of the teen years?   




    truth?  is truth unchanging law?  we both have truths, are mine the same as yours?

  • invalid-0

    It appears that Mr. Smith may be suffering from his own “fear and shame based” feelings when it comes to sexuality. It is unfortunate that he must project these feelings on those serving youth with the best message of saving sex for marriage! In his latest rant re: the Illinois Dept of Health’s support for abstinence education,Smith once again is applying his tactics of intimidation to coerce states into rejecting funds. He has become a state by state shakedown artist spreading misinformation about curricula, research and public opinion regarding abstinence education. It is odd that federally funded SIECUS and Mr. Smith inparticular, are able to spend so much time railing against the abstinence message. Give it a rest, Billy and start to focus on the youth are getting paid to serve!! Or did you forget about that part of your mission?