Prepared Testimony for the Illinois State Legislative Hearings on HB 2675
Executive Director, Abstinence & Marriage Education Partnership
March 13, 2013 Springfield, Illinois
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Hello. My name is Scott Phelps. I serve as Executive Director of the Abstinence & Marriage Education Partnership based near Chicago. A&M Partnership exists to ensure that every teenager in the country has the opportunity to hear a clearly reasoned, positive presentation on the benefits of abstinence until marriage and instruction on a preparing for a healthy future marriage. My purpose in coming before you today is to explain how the proposed bill on sex-education would make our mission more difficult to achieve in the state of Illinois -- to the detriment of her youth.
Thank you for the opportunity to address you on this important and sensitive topic. It is hard to imagine a topic that generates more emotion and concern among parents and school administrators, and it behooves the state to tread lightly when seeking to mandate what school-aged youth are taught in this area.
This bill is essentially that which has been proposed year after year in this legislature without success. Proponents have not been able to garner the necessary support, because legislators of both parties recognize that this bill amounts to a statewide mandate overriding the will of local communities. Until now, schools have enjoyed the freedom to work with parents and teachers to determine those curricula which best meet the needs of their youth. Schools teaching abstinence until marriage are presenting the optimal health outcome, are in compliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations, and should not be viewed by the state as somehow inadequate. Many teachers and parents are committed to teaching the benefits of reserving all sexual activity and child bearing for a marriage relationship and do so effectively without interference from the state.
Changes to the current statute must have a compelling argument and must be rooted in research. Fortunately, there is now a treasure trove of data providing ample evidence of the need for a greater emphasis on abstinence and marriage education rather than less. The sexual revolution, which began in the 1960’s with a decoupling of sex and marriage, has been an unmitigated disaster for the American family with devastating cultural consequences. Dr. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia, and Dr. George Akerlof, a Nobel-Prize winning economist at the University of California Berkeley, have documented the role of the sexual revolution in declining marriage rates, increased premarital sex, and the attendant social consequences.1
Wilcox and Akerlof, argue that “the sexual revolution – aided in part by widespread contraception -- led to dramatic increases in non-marital childbearing.” Their research clearly shows that the sexual revolution played an important role in the nation’s retreat from marriage over the last four decades, and is indirectly responsible for the social consequences of that retreat.” Akerlof states: “Just at the time, about 1970 that the permanent cure to poverty seemed to be on the horizon and just at the time that women had obtained the tools to control the number and timing of their children, single motherhood and the feminization of poverty began their long and steady rise.” Wilcox suggests that a number of other studies find that “the retreat from marriage is strongly linked to increases in child poverty, crime, and substance abuse since the 1960’s.” He concludes that “the erosion of the norm of premarital sexual abstinence, both in belief and behavior, appears to have played an important role in the weakening of American family life and, in turn, some of the nation’s most pressing social problems. 1
Sadly for America’s children, the values of the sexual revolution have been mainstreamed into the nation’s educational process contributing to a dramatic shift from America’s long history of marital and familial stability. The percentage of married Americans continues to decline and now stands at an all time recorded low of 51%. Soon, married couples will be a social minority.2 These failing marital and familial structures have social and economic ripple effects and cause harm to America’s children. As the separation of sex and marriage has become normalized more American children are now born out of wedlock than at any other time in American history so that the non-marital birth rate stands at a record high of 41%5 on a steady march toward 50%. Soon, most American children will be born outside of a marriage relationship. The non-marital birth rate in the black community currently stands at 72%. Remarkably, Daniel Patrick Moynihan saw all of this and tried to sound the alarm in 1965.15 The clear trend of increasing non-marital births is particularly troublesome because research clearly demonstrates that children born outside of a married parent home are far more likely to suffer a whole host of social consequences compared to their peers born to, and living with, their married parents.11
Sex education programs, which promote birth control for unmarried youth, are woefully inadequate to address our state’s most pressing needs. By severing the relationship of sex and marriage these classes only serve to exacerbate our current woes, fueling the decline of marriage, the increase of fatherless children, and consequently the breakdown of the American family.
The sexual revolution has also taken a toll on our nation’s physical health. While it is claimed that the sex-ed classes promoting contraception are necessary to combat the growing epidemic of sexually transmitted disease, it is contraceptive usage outside of marriage that is particularly responsible for the this epidemic as Wilcox and Akerlof clearly demonstrate in multiple studies.1 According to the CDC, every day in the United States there are approximately 52,000 new cases of sexually transmitted diseases. No one practicing abstinence is contributing to this epidemic. For this reason, the CDC Guidelines for Sexual Health reasonably suggest that schools should teach teens to:
“Abstain from sexual intercourse until they are ready to establish a mutually monogamous relationship within the context of marriage.” 3
And for teens that have been sexually active schools should instruct these students to:
“Stop engaging in sexual intercourse until they are ready to establish a mutually monogamous relationship within the context of marriage.” 3
These CDC guidelines, which are reflected in current Illinois law, maintain the necessary and proper connection between sex and marriage. As abstinence education has increased over the past two decades, rates of teen pregnancies, births, and abortions have fallen dramatically from their peak of twenty years ago and now stand at or near an all time recorded low. Although the state of Illinois has eliminated state and federal funding for schools to teach abstinence, many schools continue to do so anyway, and today the rates of teen pregnancy and teen birth in Illinois are below the national average.
Specifically, over the past twenty years, the national teen birth rate has fallen by a remarkable 45%, but it has fallen by 49% in Illinois.4 The national teen birth rate is 34.5 per 1,000 girls, but it is 33 per 1,000 in Illinois.4 The national teen pregnancy rate has fallen by 37%, but it has fallen 40% in Illinois.4 Not coincidentally, rates of teen sexual activity are also on the decline. According to the CDC, a majority of high school aged teens have never had sexual intercourse (53%) and the percentage of abstinent teens in Illinois is higher than the national average at 55%.4
This good news should be encouraged rather than hindered. A&M Partnership is one of the leading providers of training and materials for abstinence education around the country, and is headquartered here in Illinois where over 1,200 schools and organizations around the state have used our programs, not by state mandate, but by their own free choice. Today, the leading abstinence education programs such as ours are reviewed by the federal Department of Health & Human Services for medical accuracy and incorporate the latest data from the CDC. However since our programs do not, and will not teach teens to use contraception, which is highly inappropriate, unnecessary, and even harmful, the current legislation will intimidate schools to stop teaching our programs and similar such abstinence education programs.
A vast majority of sexually experienced teens do not wish to continue in this lifestyle. Approximately two-thirds of sexually active teens consistently say that they regret their decision and wish that they had waited. 6 One-third of these girls were forced or pressured in to it.7 They’re not looking for contraceptive instruction. Additionally, the CDC indicates that 98% or nearly all sexually active teen girls are already using contraception.8
As for the specifics of the bill, the synopsis makes clear that the intent is to replace the current standard of "abstinence-until-marriage," with "abstinence." This is no small intent. By deleting the objective standard of "marriage," all of the associated benefits of the objective “until-marriage” standard are lost. Beyond the more obvious benefits of pregnancy and disease prevention, there are many additional benefits of saving sex for marriage including lower poverty rates and greater academic achievement.10,11,12
Without the objective standard of marriage, abstinence becomes a flexible, subjective term meaning whatever anyone might wish for it to mean. For example, in one of the supposedly “evidence-based” curricula supported by this bill, we find the following definition of abstinence:
“We define abstinence as… a period of at least 2 months or more; however, it could be a few months, it could be when they have found a partner that they want to have a one-on-one relationship with, it could be until they decide to get married.” 13
As in the text of the bill, notice here that waiting until “marriage,” is presented as an option, essentially identical to waiting for “two months,” or until a “one-on-one relationship.” This subjective definition is confusing and renders the term “abstinence” meaningless. And while the bill contains a fig-leaf mention that abstinence is the “ensured method of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases,” the above definition puts them at risk within two months, or perhaps sooner, having no measurable benefit.
Additionally problematic is this bill’s requirement to: “include instruction on both abstinence and contraception for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.”
Ironically, this bill, which requires “medical accuracy,” is itself medically inaccurate as demonstrated here. The text above links abstinence and contraception, suggesting that these are similar when in fact they are not. In the first case, students are not having sex and in the second case they are, albeit with contraceptives. It is not medically accurate to present these two alternatives as similar in their ability to “prevent” either pregnancy or disease. These are opposite, not similar activities. Either students are not sexually active or they are. In one case, pregnancy and disease are not possible and in the other they most certainly are, contraception not withstanding. This is a major flaw with the legislation. It is not merely worded badly, but rather it is conceptually and fundamentally flawed in its approach to one of the most significant sociological challenges of our day, curbing non-marital births and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and strengthening future marriage and family. The bill’s proponents have offered neither the research nor the rationale to support changing existing law, which follows CDC guidance.
Moreover, the assertion that contraception will “prevent” sexually transmitted diseases, is clearly false since contraceptive products are not designed for and do not facilitate this purpose. The word “contraception" literally means against conception. These products are designed to prevent fertilization of the female egg, which leads to conception, pregnancy, and birth. They are not designed for disease prevention. To suggest otherwise is not “medically accurate.” Only condoms (not all “contraception”), may help reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, but this is only an ancillary effect. In fact, many condoms still contain spermicide (sperm-killer) even though the CDC warned over a decade ago that spermicide actually increases the risk of infection for HIV.16
The popular claim that condoms will reduce the spread of STDs is simply not supported by CDC data. We are aware of no research showing that the increase in condom usage has consistently resulted in a reduction of sexually transmitted diseases. Neither are we aware of any research showing that comprehensive sex education classes have ever resulted in decreases in teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, as this bill assumes they do. We would welcome such documentation. (Last year an Illinois State Representative claimed to have such research. I asked for a copy, and nearly a year later, I am still waiting.) There are additional problems with this legislation and the problems it creates, but these several examples will suffice.
In summary, it is because sex is taught without reference to marriage that so many young adults have failed to appreciate the role of marriage for sexual activity or childbearing. The great tragedy of promoting condoms to school-aged teens isn’t that condoms don’t always work but that condoms become a substitute for marriage. Teens aren’t encouraged to save sex for marriage but rather to save sex for condoms – the results of which we now see. To be sure, these so-called “evidence-based comprehensive sex education programs” are currently being taught in some schools here in Illinois and elsewhere in the country, but they have little if anything good to report for their efforts. Ask proponents of this legislation for research to support their claims and note the response. They certainly cannot point to a reduction in STD rates after all these years. The greater concern here is that the proposed legislation seeks to codify and further institutionalize the sexual revolution which, as Dr. Akerlof has pointed out,1 separated sex and marriage with devastating results. This legislation is irresponsible and harmful to our youth.
The fact is that most high school aged teens are abstinent and they want to get married and have a family some day.14 Abstinent teens aren’t contributing to the non-marital birth rate, aren’t having abortions, and aren’t contributing to the spread of STDs. Abstinence is clearly and objectively the safest, healthiest path for our teens, and offers the greatest possible outcomes for our society at large. For these reasons, I humbly request that this committee consider the accumulated weight of evidence against this proposal and rather support greater access to abstinence education programs for Illinois schools. It should be abundantly clear that this bill would only be detrimental to our youth and further weaken our cultural fabric. Thank you for your consideration.
Scott Phelps, Abstinence & Marriage Education Partnership
1. W. Bradford Wilcox, Ph.D., A Scientific Review of Abstinence and Abstinence Programs, Technical Assistance Module for Abstinence Education Grantees. Arlington, VA. Pal‐Tech, Inc., February 2008. pp. 6‐8. Citing: Akerlof, George A. 1998. “Men Without Children.” The Economic Journal 108: 287-309. And Akerlof, George A., Janet L. Yellen, and Michael L. Katz. 1996. “An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing in the United States.” Quarterly Journal of Economics CXI: 277- 317.
3. CDC Sexual Health Behaviors, School Health Guidelines
4. United States Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Adolescent Health: http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-health-topics/reproductive-health/states/il.html, accessed 3-10-13.
5. Hamilton BE, Martin JA, Ventura SJ. Births: Preliminary data for 2008. National vital statistics reports, Web release; vol 57 no 12. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Released March 18, 2009, p17.
6. Albert, B. With One Voice: America’s Adults and Teens Sound Off About Teen Pregnancy. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2007. (Regret for ages 12-14: 67%, ages 12-19: 60%. Year over year, the “regret” statistic for ages 12-19 is consistently in the two-thirds range. 2002: 63%, 2003: 67%, 2004: 66%).
7. Moore KA, et al., A Statistical Portrait of Adolescent Sex, Contraception, and Childbearing, Washington DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 1998. p. 11 (7.3% non-voluntary or “forced,” + 24.1% unwanted or “pressured” = 31.4% or approximately 1 in 3.)
8. Abma JC, Martinez GM, Copen CE. Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing, National Survey of Family Growth 2006-2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 23 (30). 2010. p22.
9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. MMWR June 4, 2010: 59 (No. SS-5) p. 21.
10. Whitehead, B. & Pearson, M. (2006). Making a Love Connection: Teen Relationships, Pregnancy, and Marriage. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. pp. 17-18.
11. Robert Rector, and Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., The Effects of Marriage and Maternal Education in Reducing Child Poverty, Center for Data Analysis, The Heritage Foundation, Washington D.C., August 2002. pp. 1-6.
12. Robert Rector, and Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., Teenage Sexual Abstinence and Academic Achievement, Paper presented at the 9th Annual Abstinence Clearinghouse Conference, The Heritage Foundation, Washington D.C. August 2005. pp. 2-12, 20-24.
13. From sample pages of the Horizons program, as provided by the Illinois State Senate Education Committee. Workshop 1, p. 36.
14. Jerald G. Bachman, Lloyd D. Johnston, and Patrick M. O’Malley, Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth (12th-Grade Survey) 2006, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, 2008.
15. United States Department of Labor, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management. The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. Office of Policy Planning and Research United States Department of Labor, March 1965: http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/webid-meynihan.htm
“Indices of dollars of income, standards of living, and years of education deceive. The gap between the Negro and most other groups in American society is widening.
The fundamental problem, in which this is most clearly the case, is that of family structure. The evidence — not final, but powerfully persuasive — is that the Negro family in the urban ghettos is crumbling. A middle class group has managed to save itself, but for vast numbers of the unskilled, poorly educated city working class the fabric of conventional social relationships has all but disintegrated. There are indications that the situation may have been arrested in the past few years, but the general post war trend is unmistakable. So long as this situation persists, the cycle of poverty and disadvantage will continue to repeat itself.
The thesis of this paper is that these events, in combination, confront the nation with a new kind of problem. Measures that have worked in the past, or would work for most groups in the present, will not work here. A national effort is required that will give a unity of purpose to the many activities of the Federal government in this area, directed to a new kind of national goal: the establishment of a stable Negro family structure.”
16. Helene D. Gayle, M.D., M.P.H., Director, National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August 4, 2000.