The good news this week is that - as this stream of local news stories can attest - HHS has started handing out the $55 million in Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) grants. These grants go toward sex-education programs that have met evidence-based standards for reducing teen pregnancy and STI transmissions, which is a fancy way of saying that they teach kids about contraception. The bad news is that this doesn’t mean the end of abstinence-only education.
In all the melee over health care reform, the baby-splitting compromise over sex education went understandably under-reported. In the grab bag of goodies being tossed at conservative Democrats and Republicans to get them to support health care reform, $50 million in grant money for abstinence-only programs was added to the $55 million for PREP. States can choose which money they’d like to apply for . Quietly, Congress instituted a form of red state/blue state balkanization of the sort that fed up people on both sides of the aisle are increasingly demanding, at least over cocktails, when, should politics come up amongst like-minded people, someone is bound to say, “Why can’t the red states and blue states just go their separate ways already?” Well, on sex education, it looks like a looming possibility.
Should the “go your own way” strategy with sex education really take root, it will likely grow the already-existing inequalities between sexual health outcomes in red and blue states. As Naomi Cahn and June Carbone demonstrated in their book Red Familes v. Blue Families , more conservative states generally have higher teen pregnancy rates. There are complex reasons for this, but lack of social support for contraceptive use for sexually active teenagers is a major factor. Having the federal government help fund contraception-positive messages in blue states and contraception-negative messages in red states can only make this situation worse.
The good news is that red states aren’t (yet) all completely in the thrall of the anti-sex league. There comes a breaking point for many where teen pregnancy rates get so high they’re willing to start taking another look at those condom thingies. Arkansas quietly added contraception education to its health programs that used to be anti-contraception. For them, the breaking point was 62.3 births for teenagers out of 1,000 live births, 48 percent over the national average. Of course, some states, like Mississippi, will probably be building maternity wards in their high schools before they start to think that maybe it’s not the worst idea if sexually active teenagers wrap it up.
Illustration about promoting abstinence by Adrignola for Wikimedia Commons.