I knew that abstinence programs were taught but I assumed they were elective. Nope. The Weatherford Democrat article discusses.
Texas Public Schools are required by law (TEC Chapter 163.001 and 163.002) to teach an abstinence program in the required Health and Physical Education classes.
In Weatherford, students complete the “Worth the Wait” program curriculum in order to graduate.
Weatherford ISD’s Health Advisory Committee adopted the “Worth the Wait” program in 2004. The committee consists primarily of parents, but includes clergy members and medical community.
It's especially interesting because recently the GAO (Government Accountability Office) issued a report indicating that abstinence-only programs are not being reviewed for scientific and medical accuracy. AND that, despite there being over 1 billion dollars of taxpayer money being spent on them, Health and Human Service is not evaluating them to be sure that they are actually effective in making a difference. From the GAO Report-
"Efforts by HHS and states to assess the scientific accuracy of materials used in abstinence-until-marriage education programs have been limited. This is because ACF - which awards grants through two programs that account for the largest portion of federal spending on abstinence-until-marriage education - does not review its grantees' education materials for scientific accuracy and does not require grantees of either program to review their own materials for scientific accuracy."
I'm always interested to find out more about programs and who sponsors them. With regard to Worth the Wait, is there any evidence that the information being presented might be *cherry-picked*, so to speak? Here's the home page for Worth the Wait. Just a few references:
- Dr. Patricia Sulak of the Scott & White Clinic & Hospital in Temple, Texas, started the program.
- An article in Salon from 2002 says that Dr Sulak's presentation (at least at that time) emphasizes HPV, and has some misleading claims regarding condom use to prevent it.
"How many people know that human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted disease and that it causes cervical cancer?" she asks. Then she offers a handful of factoids: "Fifty percent of sexually active women have been infected ... In one study, 90 percent of sexually active adolescents were infected with HPV ... Even if a small percentage develops problems, so many people are infected that we have a huge health problem in this country."
Even more frightening, Sulak says, is the fact that HPV can't be prevented through safe sex. Because it thrives on the skin in the genital area, HPV can be passed on even if condoms are worn. The only way to keep the public safe from this dangerous virus, Sulak argues, is through long-term monogamy....
Today's abstinence programs wrap themselves in a cloak of medical accuracy. Sulak stresses that she's only giving kids the often overlooked facts about condom failure. Unruh points out that kids aren't hearing "the truth about HPV." And when I clicked through an interactive CD-ROM sent by the National Physicians Center, an abstinence nonprofit run by doctors, I was greeted by the conservative radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who informed me that "my friends at the National Physicians Center have provided medically accurate information."
Most of the medically focused abstinence programs (as opposed to the more religious curriculums that courts are beginning to bar from federal funding) use citations from established medical journals. But every one of them, in varying degrees, brings a conservative ideology to the analysis and to the choice of data emphasized. Comprehensiveness is nowhere to be found. Organizations like Sulak's "Worth the Wait" avoid the uncomfortable fact that for every study showing HPV's dangers or condoms' lack of usefulness, there seems to be another suggesting more nuanced conclusions.
For example, one of the documents most often mentioned by the abstinence education movement is a 2001 NIH report on condoms, which supposedly shows that, according to Sulak, "there's no scientific data showing that condoms prevent HPV." Other organizations make similar claims about the report. Unruh simply calls it "devastating" to those who favor safe-sex education....
But actually, the report argues that condoms do in fact "afford some protection in reducing the risk of HPV-associated diseases." Independent studies confirm these findings. The CDC, while acknowledging that abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV, also stresses that condoms reduce the virus' spread.
"Condoms don't necessarily protect against external spread of genital warts, but if you're trying to prevent cervical cancer, condoms clearly help," says Rothenberger at the University of Minnesota.
Neither Sulak's lecture (which I watched on video), nor the Abstinence Clearinghouse, nor the "Prescriptions for Parents" CD-ROM from the National Physicians Center mention these findings, which are widely accepted in the medical community. They also fail to point out that the NIH condom report begins by pointing out that latex condoms can effectively reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS, an STD that has killed nearly 500,000 Americans in the past 20 years, far more than those who have died from cervical cancer.
I went to look up the NIH condom report-here it is.
Conclusions on STDs Transmitted by Genital Secretions
The published data documenting effectiveness of the male condom were strongest for HIV. The Panel concluded that, based on a meta-analysis of published studies "always" users of the male condom significantly reduced the risk of HIV infection in men and women. These data provided strong evidence for the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission in both men and women who engage in vaginal intercourse
The Panel also concluded that the consistency of findings across four epidemiological studies of gonorrhea indicated that the latex male condom could reduce the risk of gonorrhea for men.
The strongest evidence for potential effectiveness of condoms on other STDs transmitted by genital secretions (i.e. gonorrhea in women, chlamydial infection and trichomoniasis) was the laboratory-based studies on the properties of the male latex condom and the strength of the evidence for condom use reducing the risk of HIV transmission in men and women and gonorrhea in men. The Panel concluded, however, that because of limitations in study designs there was insufficient evidence from the epidemiological studies on these diseases to draw definite conclusions about the effectiveness of the latex male condom in reducing the transmission of these diseases. ..
Conclusions on HPV
For HPV, the Panel concluded that there was no epidemiologic evidence that condom use reduced the risk of HPV infection, but study results did suggest that condom use might afford some protection in reducing the risk of HPV-associated diseases, including warts in men and cervical neoplasia in women.
In fact, the Administration for Children and Families (under the HHS) admits that the information being presented to children is faulty.
ACF admits—two years after the Waxman report revealed serious medical inaccuracies in the majority of the most popular abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula— that it does not monitor for medical accuracy in programs. But, ACF explains that it does require programs to assure programs are “true and correct.” Is this public health or an honor code in an elementary school? The GAO is clear: “ACF cannot be assured that the materials used in its State and Community-Based Programs are accurate.” ACF is indifferent and seems content to continue shoveling money out the door to folks like Sulak and Keroak with little more than a pinky swear promise that their programs will be accurate.
On the issue of evaluation though, HHS’ response to the GAO’s findings can only be described as either delusional or deliberately deceptive. HHS’ argument is basically that it is trying. Twenty-five years of funding and almost a billion and half dollars put into these programs and the best HHS can come up with is that it’s trying?
Another sort-of-related factoid about Sulak. I had read a few years back about a woman doctor who advocated pills to get rid of women's monthly menstrual cycles, with the admonition that periods are not normal. I read that, laughed, and wondered why any female would jump up and subsidize Big Pharm by being a guinea pig for some yokel's crazy idea. Well, I see SHE is that person (her interview in this issue of New Scientist - how to do that/ By continuously giving females hormones... (Did you see, like I did, that in the last 2 weeks, the news has come out that stopping HRT estrogen treatments LOWERED immediately cancer rates in women????). That sort of begs the question- is this woman on the board or in any way associated with a pharma company? Well... yeah.
Patricia J. Sulak, MD reports that she is a consultant for Barr Laboratories, Inc. and Berlex, Inc.; and is a speaker/has received honoraria from Barr Laboratories, Inc., Berlex, Inc., Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and Pfizer Inc.
Now... has Barr or Wyeth come out with any Stop-Period pills? Why... Yeah.
In 2006, a new oral contraceptive called Anya, developed to "put women in control of when or if they want to menstruate," is expected to hit the Canadian and U.S. markets. Manufactured by Collegeville, Penn.-based Wyeth Pharmaceuticals -- and currently pending approval by Health Canada -- Anya is the first low-dose birth control pill designed to be taken 365 days a year, without placebos (the hormone-free sugar pills taken at the end of every 28-day cycle). Early findings report that Anya is just as effective in preventing pregnancy as traditional oral contraceptives (98 per cent). And as an added bonus, since Anya provides a steady stream of hormones, it promises to quash a woman's usual cyclical fluctuations, virtually wiping out all the irksome symptoms of PMS.
The elimination of periods -- politely called menstrual suppression -- is an objective the pharmaceutical industry has been chasing for several years. In the fall of 2003, Barr Laboratories of Pomona, N.Y., introduced Seasonale in the U.S., the first extended-cycle contraceptive pill, with the slogan "Fewer periods. More possibilities." Unlike traditional oral contraceptives, which a woman takes for 21 days, followed by seven days of placebo pills, Seasonale is taken for 84 consecutive days, followed by seven days of placebos, which gives her four periods a year instead of the usual 13. Despite widely reported side effects, including irregular bleeding, Seasonale -- still pending approval in Canada -- has quickly emerged as a popular option in the U.S. Last year alone, Barr recorded Seasonale sales of US$87 million. Anya takes this concept and raises it to the next level.
Notice that this dog and pony from Dec 9, 2003 that quotes Dr Sulak about this and the Barr Pharma product is a ... press release. One has to wonder if the study she did while at A&M was funded by Barr? The study was done in 2001, with Barr releasing the drug to the FDA in 2002.
Patricia Sulak, M.D., Professor, Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology, Texas A & M University System Health Science Center College of Medicine at Scott & White Memorial Hospital in Temple, TX is lead author of the study. Dr. Sulak said the study is important "because it is the first long-term study of a large series of patients to evaluate acceptance and long-term continuation rates of altering the 21/7 day birth control regime." ...
A New Drug Application (NDA) is expected to be filed, by Barr Laboratories, Inc., with the FDA sometime in mid-2002 for a new oral contraceptive. The new drug, Seasonale, is currently being researched and has completed Phase III clinical trials. Seasonale is expected to be packaged for 13-week use (84 days on/7 days off), reducing the number of menstrual cycles a woman experiences to just four per year.
I noted that Dr Sulak said in her presentation to the CDC conference in May 2006 (entire presentation here) that the abstinence only crowd doesn't like her because she dishes out contraceptives to kids. Also, this Seattle Times article on May 6, 2006 on the panel says that she and the other abstinence-only panelist were not put through any type of review process, as the others were, before testifying.
Researchers organizing a federal panel on sexually transmitted disease say an agency allowed a conservative congressman to include two abstinence-only proponents, bypassing the scientific-approval process....
The panel's original title, "Are Abstinence-Only Until Marriage Programs a Threat to Public Health?" was changed last week, and two members were pulled. The new panel is titled "Public Health Strategies of Abstinence Programs for Youth." Souder's office said it did not recommend the two new panelists.
Neither of the new speakers, Dr. Patricia Sulak, an ob/gyn and director of "Worth the Wait," and Dr. Eric Walsh, went through the peer-review process required of other participants, although CDC officials did not explain why. Both panelists were funded by HHS, although others said they were told they had to pay their expenses.
To sum up. Here you have an abstinence program being touted by a woman who is aligned with pharmaceutical companies, who has done tests for them (and I would guess her studies at A&M were funded by them), who says she will give contraceptives to kids, and who doesn't appear to give a neutral presentation, nor has the program itself been properly vetted for scientific and medical accuracy.
I don't think there's any parent in the world that isn't going to tell his or her child that it's best to wait until after marriage to have a child, or at least until adulthood. But realistically, sex is going to happen, and, since the schools are sticking their noses into what ought to be parental business, then the side for parents who recognize that contraceptive choices should be explained ought to be beter represented.. and, most importantly, accurately, since increasingly our taxdollars are being used to pay for this.
P.S. I do take encouragement from the fact that Democrat Henry Waxman will be examining the costs and benefits from these types of programs... We shouldn't have to pay for unvetted potential quackery.