AIDS Alabama and SIECUS Release Special Report

On April 1, SIECUS and AIDS Alabama released a special report on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Alabama.  The report provides an in-depth look at the funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Alabama, the status of adolescent sexual health in the state, and the state’s current law and policy.  In addition, the report includes an analysis of the six most commonly used abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula in the state.

Since 1998, Alabama has received more than $33 million dollars in federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  In Fiscal Year 2007, the state received approximately $4.75 million, $953,172 of which was from Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funds.

During the last decade—the same time period in which abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the state grew tremendously— citizens of Alabama have faced increasingly poor health outcomes. HIV, sexually transmitted disease (STD), and teen birth rates in Alabama are far above the national average.  For example, the teen birth rate in Alabama is 27.5 percent higher than the national average.1  In addition, specific populations, made even more vulnerable by poor quality sexuality education, experience the worst sexual health outcomes.2  In 2007, African Americans, who make up only 26 percent of Alabama’s population, represented 72 percent of new cases of HIV In the same year, individuals under the age of 34 represented 43 percent of newly diagnosed HIV/ AIDS cases.3

Despite these disturbing statistics, state officials and community-based organizations in Alabama have chosen to focus their time and resources on unproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. The special report identifies six major themes in these programs.  Federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Alabama: 

  • rely on messages of fear and shame;
  • provide misinformation about HIV/AIDS, other STDs, condoms, and contraception;
  • mandate marriage
  • ignore lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) students and families;
  • foster gender myths and stereotypes;
  • encourage teens to take virginity pledges; and
  • promote religion
In fact, Alabama uses some of the most biased and inaccurate abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula available to teach its young people.  For example, Why kNOw, a curriculum used by Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage sub-grantees in Alabama, relies on messages of fear and shame. At one point it states about sex outside of marriage: “WARNING! Going on this ride could change your life forever; result in poverty, heartache, disease, and even DEATH.” It goes on to say that many “will board this ride and come out losers.”4

AIDS Alabama, the state’s largest AIDS service organization, works to promote comprehensive sexuality education and counter these harmful abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  “The South has become ground zero for the HIV epidemic in the United States, and Alabama is no exception,” said Kathie Hiers, CEO of AIDS Alabama.  “With the rates of new infections of HIV and STDs continuing to climb, Alabama cannot afford to continue with these failed policies; we need dedicated funding to prevent HIV and STDs.  You can pay a little now or pay a whole lot more later,” said Hiers.  She added, “Most importantly, we need to provide our young people with comprehensive sex education so that they can avoid high-risk behaviors that can lead to STD or HIV infection.  We do them a potentially life-threatening disservice if we withhold this critical information.”

References

  1. Alabama Center for Health Statistics, “Vital Statistics at a Glance Alabama 2005,” (2005), accessed 14 May 2007, http://ph.state.al.us/chs/2005percent20Webpercent20Documents/2005percent20ATAGLANCE.pdf.
  2. “Alabama Department of Health,” HIV/ AIDS Statistics, (2007), accessed 13 December 2007, http://www.adph.org/aids/Default.asp?id=984.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Kris Frainie, Why kNOw Abstinence Education Program Teacher’s Manual, (Chattanooga, TN: Why kNOw Abstinence Education Programs, A Division of AAA Women’s Services, 2002).  For more information, see SIECUS’ review of Why kNOw at http://www.communityactionkit.org/reviews/WhyKnow.html.

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