The American Civil Liberties Union has launched a drive to persuade education officials in 18 states to reject federal government-affiliated abstinence-only programs.

The ACLU, citing data from a December 2004 report by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., claims the programs discriminate against homosexuals, contain too much religious connotation and spread false information, the Washington Times reported.

The civil rights organization began its campaign as Maine officials announced they would reject federal abstinence-only funding, becoming the third state to do so. Officials said the federal rules contravene state policy.

Maine officials said the state would refuse grant money offered through a 1996 federal welfare reform law because it could only be used to fund abstinence-only education and not “comprehensive” sex education.

“This money is more harmful than it is good,” Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of Maine’s Bureau of Health, told the Portland Press Herald. “You can’t talk about comprehensive reproductive information.”

Mills said the state refused $165,000 in Title V abstinence grants in fiscal year 2005 and would not take another $161,000 that becomes available when the government’s next fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

“Today’s action should be a wake-up call for many states,” said Louise Melling, head of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “State officials need to ensure the health and safety of students by taking responsibility for the curricula taught in their classrooms.”

Pennsylvania and California are the other two states that have rejected the funds, the Times reported.

“For too long the federal government has funded abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula that are based on ideology and religion rather than science,” Jennifer McAllister-Nevins, state strategies attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and Not In My State campaign coordinator, said.

“Studies show that the overwhelming majority of parents want their children to get all the information they need to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and STDs [sexually transmitted diseases],” she added. “If the federal government continues to censor life-saving information, then it is up to the states to say enough is enough.”

The ACLU’s campaign is focusing on Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wyoming, the Times reported.

The organization says most abstinence-only programs do not reduce the incident of teenage sex before marriage, noting such programs may instead deter teens from using contraceptives and getting checked for STDs. Alternately, the ACLU says abstinence-only education coupled with instruction on contraceptive use “helps teens delay sex and increases condom use among sexually active teens.”

James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, said new government statistics showed nearly one-in-four teen virgins have had oral sex. “From a public health perspective, these data cause concern because young people may contract many of the same STDs from oral sex that they can get during vaginal intercourse,” he said.

He also blames the high rate of oral sex among teens on abstinence-only programs that forbid any discussion of contraceptive use.

“We need honest, accurate sex education,” said Wagoner, a former executive vice president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and chief of staff to Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio. “We also need an open and frank discussion about the disconnect that seems to be occurring in our culture between intimate sexual behavior, like oral sex, and emotional connection in a relationship. But if all we do is keep promoting a failed abstinence-only ideology, we’ll never be able to get to where we want – a place where youth are safe and healthy.”

But, the Times reported, abstinence-only supporters say comprehensive sex education advocates are the ones largely responsible for pushing the teen oral sex rate to more than 50 percent. And, they maintain, abstinence is the only 100-percent effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STDs.

“When it comes to drug abuse, underage drinking and smoking, recent years have seen the arrival of much-needed media campaigns and school programs designed to let kids know flat out: Do not engage. Of course, we still have much to do to curb the use of illicit drugs, but at least most adults are committed to telling kids the behavior is unacceptable,” writes Rebecca Hagelin, former vice president of communications for WorldNetDaily and currently a vice president at the Heritage Foundation. “So why should this rule not apply when it comes to teen sex?”

A study released in mid-June by Heritage showed that individuals taking an abstinence pledge were 25 percent less likely to have a sexually-transmitted disease as a young adult and were less likely to have children out of wedlock.

President Bush is an avid supporter of the programs and proposed spending $270 million on them in 2005, although Congress reduced that amount to about $168 million, the Washington Post reported.

In five years the government has spent about $1 billion on abstinence-only education.

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ACLU fights abstinence program

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