BTL Capitol Reporter
The Michigan Department of Community Health on Wednesday announced $1.4 million in grants to nine groups for abstinence-only education programs.
The grant programs are directed at youth ages 11-18 and parents of youth in that age group. Of the money, $875,000 will go to community groups and organizations, while an additional $542,000 will go to fund technical staffing and an abstinence-only public awareness campaign.
Michigan spends $700,000 a year in other sexual health education programs.
“The Michigan Abstinence Program is geared to promote abstinence from sexual activity and other related risky behaviors,” said MDCH Director Janet Olszewski, in a press release. “This funding will further help our communities and the abstinence program guide our youth away from risky activity.”
The problem is, activists say, is that according to numerous studies, abstinence-only education doesn’t work.
A September 2008 study in The Journal of Sexuality Research and Social Policy found that the programs do not delay the onset of sexual activity by teenagers, and questions whether the federal government should be spending $1.5 billion annually on them. The Guttmacher Institute has a summary.
And a study by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health released in late December shows that youth who take chastity pledges and partake of abstinence-only education will start sexual activity at the same time as their religious and conservative peers, only they are much less likely to engage in behavior to protect from unwanted pregnancies or sexual transmitted infections.
“What we know is that there (is) study after study that shows this stuff doesn’t work,” said Lori Lammerand, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan.
“Well, I disagree with you that studies show that it doesn’t work,” said MDCH spokesperson James McCurtis when asked about the studies. “I challenge you to cite one study that shows that.”
When presented with a study from the Guttmacher Institute Web site, McCurtis responded by saying, “I am not going to amend my previous comments.”
Michigan is one of 25 states that continue to receive and pursue the Title V grant money from the federal government. The other 25 states have rejected the money.
“We pursue this money from the federal government because these community groups are following the federal guidelines and they are doing a good job running the program,” McCurtis said in an email.
“You have to determine if it is a good program or not, and it’s not,” counters Planned Parenthood’s Lammerand. “You do not see a decrease in teen sexual activity with abstinence-only education programs.”
Lammerand said the $1.4 million could be better spent giving 6,000 Michigan residents access to family planning services. “What works is comprehensive sex ed with an abstinence message for those with whom it works,” Lammerand said.
The money will go to the following groups: Catholic Charities West Michigan in Grand Rapids; Jackson County Health Department; District Health Department #2 in Clinton, Gratiot and Montcalm counties; District Health Department #4 in Alpena, Cheboygan, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties; South Side Community Coalition in Lansing; St. John Investment Corporation in Detroit; The Yuinon, Inc., in Detroit; the Tuscola Intermediate School District and Wedgwood Christian Services in Grand Rapids.
The grants have drawn fire from health advocates and gay rights leaders because they exclude messages for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people.
Specifically, the granting rules mandate that abstinence be defined as no sex before marriage, and defines a mutually monogamous relationship in the context of a marriage is the “expected standard of human sexuality.”
Michigan’s Constitution was amended in 2004 to prevent same-sex partners from being married.
“I think it is pretty clear from the research that it (abstinence-only eduation) endangers all youth. It fails them all,” said Bernadette Brown, director of policy for Detroit-based Triangle Foundation. “They do not mention anything about LBGT.”
The state counters that the grants are not the only efforts to address unwanted teen pregnancies and sexual transmitted infections. James McCurtis, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Community Health, said the state spends an additional $700,000 on other programs, half of the total of abstinence-only funding.
When asked about criticisms about the abstinence-only programs excluding LBGT youth, McCurtis responded in an email, “The program is for 11 to 18 year olds… . This age group cannot get married. The program talks about abstinence.”
Under state law, youth ages 16 to 18 can get married with parental consent, and youth under 16 can get married if they have parental and probate court consent. Any Michigan resident 18 years of age and above can get married, so long as they are marrying a person of the opposite gender who is 18 or older, or has met the consent conditions listed above.
Brown pointed to a Canadian study from 2007 which found that lesbian and bisexual teenagers were seven times more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy or to get a sexually transmitted infection than their straight counterparts.
“This is huge and it is of great concern,” said Brown.
Lori Lammerand, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan, said the messages of abstinence only are not going to reach LBGT youth. “If I have happen to be someone who identifies as LBGT, I m not going to listen to the message,” she said. “Marriage is the only benchmark (for the abstinence-only programs).”
“Michigan Equality supports comprehensive sexual health programs and is deeply concerned by the state of Michigan’s emphasis on abstinence only education,” said Doug Meeks, president of the Michigan Equality board. “While abstinence is an important component of any sexual health program, the State’s new grant program completely disregards the sexual health of the LGBT community, rending approximately one million Michigan residents invisible.”