Public health advocates rallied in Philadelphia on Wednesday against President Bush's plan to expand abstinence-only education, calling instead for teaching youngsters about condoms and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. About 200 people attended the rally at the close of the National STD Prevention Conference, chanting: "Bush get wise, condoms save lives." The advocates also criticized an upcoming congressional hearing on whether condoms should carry labels warning that they do not protect against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, which causes genital and anal warts and some strains of which have been linked with virtually all cases of cervical cancer. They fear such warnings would lessen the use of condoms, which have been scientifically proven to prevent most other STDs, including HIV.
Bush has proposed doubling federal funding to $270 million for abstinence programs, saying in his State of the Union address in January that abstinence is "the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases." But independent researchers studying such programs for the federal government said in a report two years ago that no reliable evidence exists that abstinence programs work. "The Bush administration needs to fund comprehensive sex education programs," said Lauren Oshman, president of the American Medical Student Association, a cosponsor of the rally.