The New York State Department of Health announced that in accordance with Gov. Elliot Spitzer’s (D) health care plan, New York will be refusing Title V federal funding for abstinence-only sexual education. The statement, released on Sept. 20, explained that the Department of Health would instead be directing their funding and teaching efforts toward comprehensive sexual education.
Joanne Smith, president and CEO of Family Planning Advocates of New York State, applauded Spitzer’s decision.
“[Spitzer and Dr. Richard F. Daines, commissioner of the Department of Health] told me that this was not a hard decision,” Smith said. “The medical facts showed this was necessary.”
According to Smith, the reasoning for discontinuing the program was that abstinence-only education had failed in its goal to reduce teen pregnancies and the rate of STDs among students.
Title V was first passed as a component of the congressional Welfare Reform Act of 1996. Its purpose, defined very specifically, was to provide an annual source of federal funding to the 50 states in an effort to promote abstinence-only sexual education — in which children are taught to stay away, or abstain, from sexual activity until marriage — over comprehensive sexual education — in which children learn about the use of contraceptives and how to practice safe sex.
The goal of such a proposal was to decrease the number of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. A five year plan, Title V, was renewed in 2001 under President George W. Bush’s outspoken support. On Sept 30, its five-year cycle came to an uncertain close with Congress having yet to renew it.
In addition to refusing additional federal funding for abstinence-only sexual education, New York went further and “reinvested the money they’d increased levels of iPF2alphaV, a marker for oxidative stress linked to atherosclerosis in humans, increased proportionately with nicotine content. This finding points to nicotine as a cause of oxidative stress and as an inhibitor of nitric oxide.
received from Title V into programs for comprehensive sexual education,” Smith said. “The New York share of the money goes to the children.”
At Cornell, Sptizer’s decision was met with varied reactions. Randy Lariar ’08, president of the Cornell Democrats, said that he commended Spitzer for “standing true to the principle that you should not legislate morality. Abstinence is a personal choice.”
“The goal of education is to increase knowledge. If you educate people, they make better decisions. Abstinence-only sexual education does neither. It is not honest; it is not open.”
Lariar also expressed dismay at the possibility of renewal.
“I hope not,” he said. “I would hope that the Democrats wouldn’t put up with it.”
Ahmed Salem ’08, president of the College Republicans disagreed. Salem said, “It’s very interesting. It doesn’t make sense to me to refuse the money … I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.”
Salem also believes the chances for Title V being renewed are good but feels unsure about the federal government’s involvement.
“[Title V] expands the role of the federal government, and while I do support the teaching of abstinence-only sexual education, it is a state rights issue,” Salem said.
Gannett Health Center took a more neutral stance to Spitzer’s decision, choosing to emphasize its desire to appeal to Cornell’s diverse student body. Sharon Dittman, health promotion coordinator and associate director for community relations, noted that recent studies evaluating abstinence-only sexual education programs indicate comprehensive sexual education may be a superior alternative.
“From the Gannett perspective, our priority in providing services is centered on the person,” Dittman said. “We know students are making personal decisions about sexual behavior and abstinence consistent with their personal values and priorities … they rely on us for information.”
Dittman also emphasized Gannet’s commitment of educating Cornell students with all information.
“We provide information and support for people whose choice is abstinence. For people who are making different choices … access to information and support is vital to their health, safety and satisfaction.”
New York has joined 11 other states in refusing funding for abstinence-only sexual education, casting doubt on the future of this type of sexual education in the U.S. As to whether or not Congress would continue to support it, Lariar said, “I don’t know, it depends on the leadership and climate of Congress.”
According to Salem, it is likely Congress will continue to support the program. “The majority of states will take the money. Many have their own funds for abstinence-only sexual education,” Salem said. “There is no real trend of states abandoning Title V funds.”
Dittman disagreed. “The fact that we’ve seen one state after another decide that the cost of poor sexual education surpasses the money forgone by refusing Title V funds suggests a trend.”
Smith, in turn, emphasized the necessity of the shift. “Young people have a right to an appropriate education. We’re counting on our legislature,” she said, warning against the continuing of abstinence-only sexual education. “The nation can’t afford it.”