Help or Hatchet Job?

The Waxman Report

A recent report commissioned by California congressman Henry Waxman (D) casts doubt on the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs. At least, that’s the story promoted by Waxman’s office and by many in the media. Waxman’s researchers found errors in several abstinence-only curricul — for instance, a statement that AIDS can be spread through sweat or tears, and that each parent contributes twenty-four chromosomes to a child rather than twenty-three.

Now, of course, errors like these need to be corrected. But Waxman and the media used the opportunity of these small errors to pounce on the whole concept of abstinence-only education. Their take could be summed up by a headline in the Austin Chronicle that read, “Abstinence Makes the Head Grow Softer.”

The lesser-publicized story is that Waxman’s report itself is full of holes. For example, to call many of its sources biased would be an understatement. Take this footnote: “The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) and NARAL Pro-Choice America have conducted reviews of some abstinence-only programs.” The implication is that these reviews are useful to somebody studying abstinence-only programs — please. What they don’t even mention is that SIECUS and NARAL are both major opponents of abstinence-only education. SIECUS’s website, for example, claims that such curricula are “designed to control young people’s sexual behavior by instilling fear, shame, and guilt.” Ever hear of conflict of interest, Mr. Waxman?

And then there’s the section of the report that condemns a 1993 study on condom effectiveness as “erroneous.” You would think, then, that the authors would also come down on Planned Parenthood. Their website treats that same erroneous study as authoritative. But don’t hold your breath waiting for Mr. Waxman to commission a report on the errors committed by so-called “comprehensive” sex educators.

If anything is clear from this report, it’s that Mr. Waxman has an axe to grind. Many of the so-called “errors” aren’t errors at all, simply differences of opinion. For example, the report takes one curriculum to task for stating that human life begins at conception.

The report also claims that there is no data to support the effectiveness of abstinence education. Yet as Mary Beth Bonacci writes in the Catholic Herald, “At least 10 studies exist to date demonstrating the effectiveness of abstinence education, and four of these were published in peer-reviewed journals.”

And let’s not forget that, as Paul Chesser points out in the Weekly Standard, “Abstinence education texts are hardly the only student sources rife with mistakes. Was Waxman equally indignant about the science book that identified singer Linda Ronstadt as a silicon crystal? Or the one that said the equator passes through the southern United States?”

Of course, abstinence educators do need to get their facts straight. The abstinence movement has a hard enough time being taken seriously under the best of circumstances. But evidently Rep. Waxman has allowed his bias to get in the way, for if he were really concerned about accuracy, he’d be a lot more careful about his own report.

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