For the first time, Massachusetts will spend federal money to teach abstinence education.
Under a plan announced recently by Gov. Mitt Romney, Healthy Futures, a federally financed faith-based program in Boston will receive $800,000 over two years to provide the instruction in the state’s middle schools. The instruction will begin this month and will reach some 9,000 students in communities with high teenage birthrates.
“In my service as governor, I’ve never had anyone complain to me that their kids are not learning enough about sex in school,” Gov. Romney, a Republican, said as he announced the program April 20 at Boston Latin School, which already uses Healthy Futures. “However, a number of people have asked me why it is that we do not speak more about abstinence as a safe and preventive health practice.”
According to the Healthy Futures Web site, the program “educates teens in the areas of sexuality, healthy relationships, and self-respect through medically accurate information and interactive skits and demonstrations.”
The program was created in 2002 by A Woman’s Concern, a Christian pregnancy-resource clinic.
Some opponents of programs that take an abstinence-only stance in teaching young adolescents about sex say the Healthy Futures message is potentially harmful, however, because it implies that condoms are not effective at protecting against infection with HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases, or pregnancy.
“It’s going to promote ambivalence about condoms,” said Patricia Quinn, the director of public policy for the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy.
She added that the Healthy Futures program has been promoted as an addition to comprehensive sex education programs that include information about contraception. But because state aid for health education has been reduced in recent years, the Healthy Futures program might become the only sex education program available in many schools, she said.
The state had used its federal abstinence education money for a media campaign to encourage teenagers to wait until marriage to have sex. State Rep. Ruth B. Balser, a Democrat, has introduced a budget amendment that would keep the federal abstinence education funds from being spent on classroom instruction.
A version of this article appeared in the May 03, 2006 edition of Education Week