Black health leaders are urging the Bush administration to move away from its support for abstinence-only sex education programs, which they say fail to stop the spread of HIV or prevent unwanted pregnancies. Since taking office in 2001, President Bush and conservative lawmakers have made abstinence-only programs the cornerstone of their sex education policy for the nation's schools. Schools that receive federal grants to teach abstinence are strictly prohibited from discussing condoms or other forms of birth control and must emphasize abstinence outside marriage as the "expected standard" for students.
"The policy is very new, but there is no evidence to date that abstinence-only programs are effective in preventing the spread of STDs or pregnancies," said former U.S. surgeon general David Satcher at an HIV/AIDS conference held Friday in Atlanta. Satcher, who is now director of the National Center for Primary Care at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, said abstinence should be only one part of a comprehensive sex education program. Joycelyn Elders, also a former U.S. surgeon general in the Clinton administration, said it is irresponsible not to tell young people about condoms as a way to prevent HIV infections and other sexually transmitted diseases. "Until the day I die, I will be fighting for comprehensive sex education programs in our schools," said Elders, now a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Medical Science. "Abstinence-only policies do not work."