Pintos and Cadillacs

Date: July 21st, 2017
By:

Bob Reeg

The Pinto of the ‘70s era is viewed widely as a poorly designed automobile. It is notorious, after all, for combusting into flame in rear-end collisions. (According to reports, a part added to the Pinto that cost just $11 would have prevented the fires—and many resulting injuries and even deaths.) It had a short shelf-life as car brands go; production of the Pinto ceased in 1980. The Cadillac, on the other the hand, dates back to 1902 and is still in production today. It’s considered a luxury-brand automobile.

Why, you wonder, is a public policy consultant talking about cars? Fair point. The answer is that it was the analogy that came first to my mind as I contemplated the health policy hot topic on the minds of our members—comprehensive sex education versus abstinence-only education.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently notified grantees of the Office of Adolescent Health’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program that the department did not intend to fund grantees beyond the third year of a five-year project period HHS made this decision despite that Congress has not yet decided whether or how much money it may appropriate for the TPPP program to expend in this now-in-question fourth year. (Read this Reveal article and Healthy Teen Network’s President’s op-ed in Cosmopolitan for more information on this highly unusual move).

Suspicions are high that new leadership in the department consider TPPP to be “insufficiently abstinent” and would like to see the whole program go away, or at least be re-designed in a more “abstinence-positive” light?  To be determined…

In addition to distressing grantees, frustrating advocates, and confusing some public officials, the HHS decision brings to the bright light of the sun (again) the comprehensive sex education versus abstinence-only education debate (or “sexual risk avoidance,” the new term abstinence-only advocates are now using, in an attempt to rebrand and disguise the same old problematic interventions).

And so how do those cars I was talking about fit in? Well, I equate abstinence-only interventions to Pintos and CSE interventions to Cadillacs. Abstinence-only interventions are incomplete in their design because, like Pintos, they exclude some safety features, such as providing young people affirming information about contraception or guidance on how to access it.  Some abstinence-only interventions, like those exploding Pintos, are harmful in the shaming messages they communicate to youth and young adult learners.  Pregnancy prevention programs funded through the OAH’s TPPP program by and large have more safety features. They are a better product. They are Cadillacs. (And if it turns out from research that the TPP interventions are not up to snuff, they are reported to the public as such.)

I’m concerned that executive and legislative public officials currently in power are moving in the direction of putting more Pintos back onto the street, and in so doing depriving our youth of the Cadillacs they deserve. I get it. Some people simply want a cheaper product. Others are true believers and really love their vintage Pintos. That’s all well and good when it comes to personal liberty. Make your own ill-informed choice. But, when it comes to best use of public funds, I’m all about Cadillacs. I see no reason why taxpayer-contributed funds should go toward purchasing a low-quality product. Shouldn’t we insist that the public officials who represent us buy the best!

The Pinto is no longer in production. Cadillacs are on the market today.  I’m betting on Cadillacs!

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About the Author

Bob Reeg, MPA, CVA, Program Development and Public Policy Consultant, is an accomplished nonprofit organization program director & public policy analyst and advocate, and an emerging social purpose entrepreneur.

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