On February 2, the results of a study claiming to verify that so-called "abstinence-only" safer sex campaigns are effective was released and reported on in the Washington Post, troubling AIDS activists across the United States and internationally. According to the newspaper, the study, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, concludes that abstinence education is a legitimate and potentially useful method of preventing the spread of AIDS.
As of GO’s press date it remains unclear exactly who funded the study and in particular if groups with a conservative agenda were behind it; representatives of the Heritage Foundation, a far right think tank, were quoted throughout the Washington Post story about the study, raising at least the possibility that groups or institutions with an ideological agenda may have been behind the study’s origins or funding.
"This takes away the main pillar of opposition to abstinence education," said Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who wrote the criteria for federal funding of abstinence programs as quoted in the Post. "I’ve always known that abstinence programs have gotten a bad rap."
It is nearly impossible to overemphasize the extent to which the abstinence-only education debate has been politicized on both sides of the ideological spectrum and the extent to which this study has potential real life implications. After 8 plus years of the Bush presidency during which abstinence-only education programs were the only types which could by law receive federal funding, the Obama administration ushered in a new era, eliminating more than $170 million in annual federal funding targeted at abstinence programs after a series of reports concluded that the approach was ineffective. Currently the White House is launching a $114 million pregnancy prevention initiative that will fund only programs that have been shown scientifically to work, a program the administration proposed expanding to $183 million. Whether all of this is now in jeopardy remains to be seen, but this is surely a story we’ll continue to follow as more details emerge.