"Federal community-based abstinence education programs are strongly supported by parents and 22 separate studies have demonstrated their effectiveness," the letter states. "Unfortunately, funding for these programs was eliminated in and .... Therefore, unless a unique program is reestablished that prioritizes the risk avoidance abstinence message, adolescents will be largely without access to the tools they need to delay sexual activity."
Meanwhile, a federal grant program promoting healthy marriages has declared any organization teaching abstinence to high school students as ineligible for funding.
The 50-50 funding split proposed in the letter would help remedy the current 16 to 1 disparity between federal dollars spent on contraception-based sex education and those spent on abstinence education, according to Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA).
"This letter I think is very significant because members of Congress are seeing that, first of all, enough is enough," Huber told Baptist Press regarding the letter and its signatories, the majority of whom are Republican members of Congress.
"Why are we devoting so much federal money to a risk reduction message when we are not empowering young people with the healthiest message, which is abstinence education -- particularly as we see research showing that more and more teens are choosing to be abstinent? The trend is going in the right direction. And yet we have nothing that is going to encourage them in those good decisions? It's unconscionable."
The co-founder of True Love Waits, a Southern Baptist initiative teaching a biblical approach to abstinence, applauded members of Congress who signed the letter.
"Students are bombarded daily with messages that promote pre-marital sexual activity," said Jimmy Hester of LifeWay Christian Resources. "It is encouraging that these members of Congress recognize how vitally important it is to give young people a positive message about the benefits of remaining abstinent until marriage. What our youth need today is less sex education and more love education."
In 2001, when George W. Bush took office, there was an 8 to 1 disparity between federal funding of contraceptive-based sex education and that of abstinence education, Huber said. Bush lowered the ratio to 4 to 1 by 2008. But beginning with fiscal year 2010, all money for abstinence education was removed from the sex education portion of the budget, she said.
In the White House's proposed 2012 budget there is no funding specifically for abstinence education but an increase for contraceptive-based sex education, Huber said.
"The time sensitivity of your readers making contact with Congress is vital," Huber said in an interview, adding that the Appropriations Committee will consider this portion of the federal budget in less than three weeks. Citizens who live in congressional districts of Appropriations Committee members should tell their representatives immediately that they want half of all sex education money in the 2012 budget to go toward abstinence education, she said.
On another front in the abstinence education debate: New federal grants to promote healthy marriages that prohibit funding for programs teaching abstinence education.
Under the Department of Health and Human Services' Community-Centered Healthy Marriage and Relationship Grants program, one of the eight activities authorized to receive grant money is "education in high schools on the value of marriage, relationship skills, and budgeting." But applicants must state that they will not teach abstinence during marriage preparation programs for youth.
Even with a pledge not to teach abstinence, groups suspected of planning to advocate it will be penalized in the award process, Huber said.
Such a policy is deeply flawed, she said, since abstinence education actually promotes healthy marriages.
"The skills that are learned by students in an abstinence education program are really essential building blocks for a healthy marriage," she said. "... There are character qualities that are intrinsic to an abstinence program, some of them being self-restraint and self-regulation or self-control, respect for others and taking responsibility for one's own actions. All of those things are necessary to remain abstinent. But the flipside of the coin is that once you're married, those same character qualities are essential to remain faithful in marriage."
Huber noted that a growing body of research links teen sexual activity to divorce later in life. One study found that females who have sex in their teens nearly double the risk of divorce later in life compared with peers who wait to have sex.
To sway politicians, she said, abstinence proponents must show them that abstinence programs are neither dangerous nor ineffective -- a false claim of anti-abstinence groups.
"Our opponents have convinced many policy makers that abstinence education is not effective," she said. "Yet every year NAEA puts out a publication called Abstinence Works. And in Abstinence Works 2011, this year's edition, there are 22 peer-reviewed studies that show positive behavioral impact from abstinence programs. Many policy makers do not know that there is this growing body of research showing astounding results for abstinence programs."
David Roach is a writer and pastor in Shelbyville, Ky.
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