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Abstinence Programs Face Rejection

Kaitlyn Lyons, left, 14, and Katie Nemeth, 14, attend an abstinence program in Hopkinsville, Ky. The number of states refusing federal money for
Kaitlyn Lyons, left, 14, and Katie Nemeth, 14, attend an abstinence program in Hopkinsville, Ky. The number of states refusing federal money for "abstinence-only" sex education programs has increased in the past year. (Photo: Danny Vowell -- Kentucky New Era Via AP)

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By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 16, 2007

The number of states refusing federal money for "abstinence-only" sex education programs jumped sharply in the past year as evidence mounted that the approach is ineffective.

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At least 14 states have either notified the federal government that they will no longer be requesting the funds or are not expected to apply, forgoing more than $15 million of the $50 million available, officials said. Virginia was the most recent state to opt out.

Two other states -- Ohio and Washington -- have applied but stipulated they would use the money for comprehensive sex education, effectively making themselves ineligible, federal officials said. While Maryland and the District are planning to continue applying for the money, other states are considering withdrawing as well.

Until this year, only four states had passed up the funding.

"We're concerned about this," said Stan Koutstaal of the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the program. "My greatest concern about states dropping out is that these are valuable services and programs. It's the youths in these states who are missing out."

The number of states spurning the money has grown even as Congress considers boosting overall funding for abstinence-only education to $204 million, with most of it going directly to community organizations.

The trend has triggered intense lobbying of state legislators and governors around the country. Supporters of the programs are scrambling to reverse the decisions, while opponents are pressuring more states to join the trend.

"This wave of states rejecting the money is a bellwether," said William Smith of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a Washington-based advocacy and education group that opposes abstinence-only programs. "It's a canary in the coal mine of what's to come."

"We hope that it sends a message to the politicians in Washington that this program needs to change, and states need to be able to craft a program that is the best fit for their young people and that is not a dictated by Washington ideologues," Smith said.

Smith and other critics said they hope that if enough states drop out, Congress will redirect the funding to comprehensive sex education programs that include teaching about the use of condoms and other contraceptives.

"I think this could be the straw that breaks the camel's back in terms of continued funding of these programs," said John Wagoner of Advocates for Youth, another Washington advocacy group. "How can they ignore so many states slapping a return-to-sender label on this funding?"

But supporters said they plan to fight for the programs state by state.


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