Date: June 9th, 2017
By: Gina Desiderio
A more just and equitable world supports and empowers all young people to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
All young people deserve respect, appreciation, and acceptance for their unique strengths, talents, and potential.
Evidence-based strategies and approaches are effective and efficient ways to achieve positive outcomes.
These statements—excerpts from Healthy Teen Network’s Guiding Principles—shouldn’t be controversial. These are universal values that a majority of us can agree on, no matter our political beliefs. But we have been facing a constant onslaught from the current administration, undermining these values and threatening the health and well-being of our nation’s young people.
The latest threat comes in the form of the appointment of Valerie Huber as chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As a leader of the abstinence-only-until-marriage movement, Huber has promoted programs and policies that are ineffective, lack any scientific groundings, and instill fear through medically inaccurate information.
We have experienced incredible positive outcomes in the last 10 years. Teen pregnancy has plummeted, mainly due to a reduction in sexual activity and increased use of birth control., We have also seen communities and schools fostering an inclusive and safe environment for all young people, promoting culturally responsive practices, and employing a trauma-informed lens when working with their youth. We have the responsibility to continue to support our young people in ways abstinence-only cannot.
Abstinence-only education does not support or empower all young people.
Abstinence-only education does not treat all young people as deserving of respect, appreciation, and acceptance.
Abstinence-only education has not been proven effective or efficient in reaching positive health outcomes.
Seeing the opposition of most American to their principles, the abstinence-only movement was rebranded as “sexual risk avoidance education” to regain traction in the field. Call it what you want, but abstinence-only programs reflect limited religious values and views that cannot be considered even remotely universal values and fail to support our young people and prepare them to be healthy adults who can participate and contribute to our society.
Since January, we have had countless reasons to be concerned with the direction this administration is headed. These concerns have been reinforced by early proposed budgets that recommend severe cuts in funding for adolescent sexual health initiatives. This appointment elevates our concerns.
The policies and programs Huber has supported in the past threaten a major federal funding initiative for adolescent sexual health: the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program and HHS Office of Adolescent Health’s commitment to use evidence to provide young people with proven effective, age- and developmentally-appropriate, medically accurate sex education that includes abstinence as well as information about contraception.
With eight years of support for promoting effective sex education and access to contraception, teen birth rates in the U.S. are at an all-time low. Ms. Huber’s history of denying these proven effective programs, falsely calling them harmful, flies in the face of reality. The data tell us that evidence-based programs work—programs that include abstinence and contraception work and support these universal truths that are for the good not only of young people but for all of society. Abstinence-only-until-marriage education is an irresponsible use of our tax dollars: we know these programs do not work to reduce sexual risk-taking behaviors.
We join our national colleagues (e.g., SIECUS, Advocates for Youth, Rewire) in their opposition to this appointment. We cannot and will not support policies and programs that deny the evidence that has demonstrated improved health outcomes. Neither will we support or compromise on programs and policies that violate the universal values essential to supporting and empowering young people to thrive.
For further information, see also our position statement on sexuality education.
 Santelli J, Lindberg L, Finer L, Singh S. Explaining recent declines in adolescent pregnancy in the United States: the contribution of abstinence and improved contraceptive use. Am J Public Health. 2007;97(1):150-6.
 Lindberg LD, Santelli JS, Desai, S. Understanding the Decline in Adolescent Fertility in the United States, 2007–2012. J Adolesc Health. 2016: 1-7
About the Author
Gina Desiderio, Healthy Teen Network Director of Communications, has over 10 years of capacity-building and project management experience, supporting professionals to provide programs and services to empower youth to thrive.