Response to FOX News Article Published December 5, 2000

“Legal Duo Says Schools Should Stop Pushing Abstinence”

 Abstinence Education As Religious Speech

 Issued December 20, 2000

National Physicians Center for Family Resources

Consortium of State Physicians Resource Councils

 A recent article published in The Southern California Law Review attempted to characterize abstinence education as religious speech and advocated that, as such, it should be removed from the classroom. This analysis is both ill-timed and misguided. Given the recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the abstinence-until-marriage message should be embraced as the medical model for sexual health, both in and out of the classroom.

The CDC report on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) reveals that, with the exception of syphilis, every STI in America is rising. These latest statistics demonstrate the failure of a health education model that advocates protection through knowledge and technology rather than through abstinence. Two generations of Americans have been taught that “safe sex” is possible through consistent condom usage. However, this message has caused Americans to suffer increased rates of sexually transmitted infections, infertility, and adolescent pregnancy.

A brief review of the facts of just one of the prevalent STIs graphically portrays the failure of the “safe sex” message. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infects tens of millions in our nation. An estimated 25 million people have an active infection at any time, with an additional 5.5 million new infections each year. HPV often causes no symptoms and so is spread unknowingly by those infected. At least 45% of college students demonstrate evidence of infection. The recent CDC report on HPV is even more proof of the failure of condoms as protection against the spread of STIs. When used both consistently and correctly, condoms provide good protection for HIV and fair protection for gonorrhea and chlamydia, but are entirely ineffective in preventing the spread of HPV.

Several subtypes of HPV cause cervical cancer, so the rising rates of HPV have long-term implications for society, especially women’s health. HPV type 16, the most common of the cancer-causing subtypes, constitutes a growing percentage of the HPV subgroups, infecting 18% of women in the United States and a disproportionate 36% of African-American women ages 20-29. Currently there is no medical cure for HPV infections. If infection is diagnosed through changes seen in a Pap smear, the treatment consists mainly of local control measures. Many thousands of women will need to be treated for pre-cancerous conditions of the cervix, and thousands will die from cervical cancer. In addition, HPV has also been linked to cancer of the penis, anus, vulva, mouth and throat. If HPV were the only STI, it would still provide the basis for promoting abstinence as the best means of avoiding infection. However, the CDC has identified over 30 STIs, many of which are incurable and increasingly difficult to treat.

The concept that abstinence education is religious speech is based upon the fact that conservatives of ALL faiths believe abstinence should be the central and unambiguous message presented to youth. Instead of reflecting a religious message, this more truly demonstrates the concern of parents, physicians, and other health care providers who recognize the dangers of sexual activity outside of a monogamous marriage relationship. Abstinence is a logical conclusion based upon the scientific and medical facts of the epidemic of sexually transmitted infections and the consequences of adolescent sexual activity.

Singling out discussions of sexuality as religious speech is untenable. If the abstinence message is characterized as religious speech, then every moral issue affecting our society must also be defined as religious speech and eliminated from schools. Students could no longer be taught that lying, stealing or cheating were wrong since these moral issues are found in the Ten Commandments. Certainly the authors are not proposing that all moral education be eliminated from our schools?

The current epidemic of STIs in America is serious and dangerous – greatly impacting our nation’s health, our economy and our youth. Throughout history, epidemics have been arrested when infected individuals are quarantined. In the case of STIs, individuals who wish to quarantine themselves from the epidemic can choose abstinence. Teaching abstinence is not the promotion of religion, but rather wise medical advice based on scientific data. Adolescents who choose abstinence enjoy a life free from the worry of STI, unwanted pregnancy, and emotional and financial distress. Educated adults should be commending such wise choices rather than finding legal barriers to eliminate this healthy message.
Jane Anderson
, MD – San Francisco, California                      
Advisory Board Member                                                         
The National Physicians Center for Family Resources   
Dianna Lightfoot – Birmingham, Alabama / Marin County, California
National Physicians Center for Family Resources
Hal Wallis, MD – Dallas, Texas                                                                       
The Physicians Consortium                  
John Diggs, MD
Internal Medicine, Massachusetts
The Physicians Consortium
The National Physicians Center for Family Resources is a 501 c3 organization established to produce and promote family-friendly educational resources, public policy and model legislation with the assistance of a national network of physicians as project advisors.