State abstains from funds

Staff and wire reports

ALBUQUERQUE — State Health Secretary Dr. Alfredo Vigil says there has never been a consensus among the experts that abstinence-only sexual education works.

That’s one reason the state has decided not to reapply for federal funding to bring such programs to New Mexico schools next year.

“There has never been a scientific consensus about this,” he said Wednesday. “It had an ideological base from people who just wanted this to happen for all kinds of reasons.”

Both Clovis and Portales schools promote a message of abstinence to students.

Clovis schools do not have any specific programs in place to address teen parenting or pregnancy, school officials have said.

However, GRADS is a program in Portales schools designed to help teen parents complete school and develop life skills.

Babies born to young Curry County teens in 2006 dropped 18 percent from the previous year, according to statistics released this fall by the New Mexico Department of Health.

In Roosevelt County, the number increased 43 percent, statistics show.

In 2006, 51 babies were born to Curry County teens 17 years old and under, compared to 62 in 2005. In Roosevelt County, there were 35 babies born to mothers 17 and younger, up from 20 in 2005, the report showed.

Vigil said he’s not opposed to abstinence education, as long as the state’s teens are getting other information too. But with abstinence-only education, the funding came before its effectiveness was established, he said.

Vigil said experts agree that programs that give scientific, complete and age-appropriate information to young people are working when combined with making medical services available and providing adult moral and ethical support from families, churches and community groups.

“It’s not up to me to tell someone what morals to teach their teenager and it’s not up to the federal government either,” Vigil said.

New Mexico joins at least 14 other states that also have given up the federal abstinence-only funds, Health Department spokeswoman Deborah Busemeyer said.

Since 2004, New Mexico’s share of abstinence-only funding has varied from $514,000 in 2004 to nothing in 2006. So it’s unclear how much money the state would have received in 2008. The department currently spends about $400,000 in state funds on sex education, she said.

Laurel Cordova Edenburn, head of the New Mexico Abstinence Education Coalition, said the Health Department has ignored New Mexico studies that show abstinence education works.

In Socorro and Catron counties, which only use abstinence education, unwanted teen pregnancies decreased 26 percent over a five-year period, she said. And in Roswell, an Eastern New Mexico University study found a 10 percent decrease in students who reported sexual activity during an abstinence education program, she said.

“We do have good results in New Mexico,” Edenburn said.

Busemeyer said the federal abstinence-only program carried many restrictions, such as what ages could be targeted and what topics could be covered. Those providing the programs were not allowed to discuss contraception, she said.

Another reason for dropping the funding was that the controversy over the program in Congress often meant the funding varied and sometimes came late in the school year, Vigil and Busemeyer said.

For example, one year New Mexico did not receive the money until the spring and the state was expected to spend it by July, making it difficult to hire contractors to provide the program to schools, Busemeyer said.

“Those issues made it difficult to manage,” she said.

Vigil said two national studies issued this year have found that abstinence-only education is not effective in preventing teen pregnancy or delaying sexual activities among youths.

He cited a study done by Mathematica Policy Research Inc., which found that those who attended one of the four abstinence classes that were reviewed reported having similar numbers of sexual partners as those who did not attend the classes. And they first had sex at about the same age as other students — 14.9 years.

Edenburn said the Mathematica study only looked at four abstinence education programs out of the hundreds of programs that are used nationwide. None of the four operate in New Mexico, she said.

“I think they’re remiss in using it to make a definitive answer that abstinence education is ineffective,” she said.