Maggie Gallagher

Somebody up there has a wicked sense of humor.

How else do you explain the release this week of a new study by John B. Jemmott III proving that an abstinence-only education program works?

First President Obama slashes virtually all federal funding for abstinence-only education programs in 2010. ("It's about time that evidence-based management -- and sanity -- return to family planning programs," applauded Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.)

Then just last week, the Guttmacher Institute -- which is affiliated with Planned Parenthood, but usually does good science anyway -- reported that teen pregnancy rates are once again rising. Oddly, with a minimum of evidence, the Guttmacher Institute decided to blame abstinence-only education.

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"After more than a decade of progress, this reversal is deeply troubling," intoned Heather Boonstra, the institute's senior public policy associate. "It coincides with an increase in rigid abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which received major funding boosts under the Bush administration. ... Fortunately, the heyday of this failed experiment has come to an end," and new federal rules ensure that programs will be "based on research demonstrating their effectiveness."

Good job, Obama!

Less scientifically credentialed voices spoke more like Scripps Howard columnist Bonnie Erbe: "A new study should silence members of the religious right who continue to support the nonexistent efficacy of abstinence-only sex education. ... Nothing silences zealots, least of all truth or the facts."

So the release of this new study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine this week is weirdly timely.

What about that new abstinence study?

Well, it's just the gold standard for intervention research, a bright and shining pinnacle of research design that social science seldom ever reaches: random assignment. In this case 662 black sixth- and seventh-graders in low-income communities were assigned to one of four interventions, plus a control group: abstinence-only education, contraceptive "safer sex" education, two different comprehensive-education programs, plus a control group of kids who received general health education. Even the teachers were randomly assigned to one of the five groups.


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.

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