Trump administration funds sex ed risk-avoidance programs

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Tuesday, May 15th, 2018. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up on The World and Everything In It, sex education in schools. 

Americans have debated the subject for decades. Should it even be in schools?  What should it emphasize?

Some argue teens need to learn the risks of sexual activity and be encouraged to abstain until marriage.

The other camp says teen sex is a reality so sex education should emphasize avoiding pregnancy and disease.

EICHER: President Barack Obama was in the “safe sex” camp and his administration defunded groups that encouraged teens to delay sexual activity.

But last month, the Trump administration redirected funds back to those programs. WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has our story.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Operation Keepsake started to teach sexual education in Ohio middle and high schools in 1988. Executive Director Peggy Pecchio says the program started small but steadily grew over the next 20 years. By 2010, the group was in 175 schools.

PECCHIO: Every year annually we were serving 25,000 youth.

Operation Keepsake focuses on teaching a holistic message about how teens can live a healthy life–physically and emotionally.

PECCHIO: It’s not just about not having sex. It’s really about being able to have the skills and the information that you need to develop a healthy relationship as an adolescent so that as you transition into adulthood, you can form strong relationships that will be sustained for a lifetime.

In 2010, the Obama administration’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program prioritized $200 million of funding for programs that emphasized a different message: teen sex is normal. These programs are based on the assumption that abstinence doesn’t work, so sex education should teach teens how to reduce risks with condoms and contraceptives.

80 percent of the 169 risk-avoidance programs in the country lost funding—including Operation Keepsake.

PECCHIO: We had a five-year grant. I believe it was right around $456,000 a year for five years. We were in the middle of a research project, and then all of a sudden it was gone. We had to lay off people. We took dramatic cuts in pay. When we went to schools and said, we can’t serve you next year. They were like scraping the bottom of the barrel to try to bring us back in.  

That’s why Pecchio says she’s excited about the Trump administration’s change in policy. Two weeks ago, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it will designate about $80 million for teen sex education programs that tell students sex is risky. That money could fund 270 sexual risk-avoidance programs in schools. Pecchio says if Operation Keepsake earns a grant, it can spread to more campuses.

PECCHIO: We’re absolutely thrilled with the RFP that’s been released because it really is speaking for parents that they want their youth to have a primary healthcare message that they want sexual risk avoidance for their young people.

Mary Anne Mosack is the executive director of Ascend, a national organization that advocates for sexual risk-avoidance education. She says when the federal government took away funding for sexual risk avoidance education programs, schools and parents had fewer curriculum options to choose from.

MOSACK: Because the funding has been so disproportionate there has really not been a lot of choice for communities. So a community may want, a school may want a sexual risk avoidance program but because they have not heretofore been funded adequately they haven’t had that. This particular funding opens up the access.

Parents fed up with current public school sex education programs are tired of having their concerns ignored. On April 23, parents in 11 U.S. cities and in Australia, Canada and England held a Sex Ed Sit Out. They protested what they call pornographic sex ed curriculums and a campaign by pro-abortion and gay rights organizations to force their ideologies on children through sex education.

Popular blogger Elizabeth Johnston, also known as The Activist Mommy, organized the movement. Johnston told CBN that groups like Planned Parenthood, GLSEN, and the Human Rights Campaign are influencing much of the sexual education curriculum in today’s schools. They are encouraging the introduction of topics like homosexuality and gender identity.

JOHNSTON: It’s been brought to the attention of some of us mothers that parents are grieved and increasingly troubled about the graphic nature of sex education. Planned Parenthood admits on their website that they are the largest provider in America of sex education. Why are we allowing Planned Parenthood and HRC to come into our schools and radicalize and pervert our children’s minds?

Operation Keepsake’s Peggy Pecchio says she’s hopeful the HHS funds for sexual risk avoidance programs will help tell more teens the truth about the long-term effect their choices can have.

PECCHIO: All of those risks are barriers for them to accomplish their dreams. And so that’s what we really want to share with them. The the bigger the dreams, the bigger the boundaries. How big are your dreams?

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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