The United States, Marriage and Abstinence Education

So much of the news is bad news. That is why it is good to keep abreast of the good news. Paul once spoke of "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right" (Philippians 4.8). Reading the Spring 1997 "Sexual Health Update" from the Medical Institute for Sexual Health recently, I came across some encouraging good news. Let me summarise and abridge the core information in that Update. (And for those who want the web site of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health it is "http://www.mish.org")


The United States Welfare Reform Act 1996

The focus of the Update was on something very interesting going on in the United States and that has not been reported in our own media. It has therefore never been allowed to influence our own thinking here in the UK.

On 22 August last summer (1996) President Clinton signed into law the "Personal Responsibility Act of 1996". This had been passed by Congress to protect American young people from sexually transmitted diseases and from non-marital pregnancies.

The more common name for this Act is the Welfare Reform Act. The Spring Sexual Health Update described this legislation as ...

an attempt to address problems that have developed since various welfare programmes began in the 1960s. As you know, many welfare recipients have been trapped on welfare long-term, often extending across generations.

One major concern is the large and growing numbers of single parents applying for and staying on welfare. Many have felt that welfare has even fostered and encouraged greater numbers of non-marital families. The welfare reform legislation is an attempt to provide encouragement and support for those needing assistance to consider it as a a temporary measure until they can once again fend for themselves.


Introduction to the legislation

A number of people testified before the subcommittee that had the task of producing the legislation. Included in this number was Dr Joe McIlhaney of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health. He testified about the impact the current welfare system had on non-marital pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. There are many such pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among those qualifying for welfare assistance.

The result of the initiatives of these people was quite remarkable. It significantly affected the outcome of the new Act. Here, for example, is how the Welfare Reform Act begins - and it is quite remarkable:

Congress makes the following findings:

1. Marriage is the foundation of a successful society.

2. Marriage is an essential institution of a successful society which promotes the interests of children.

3. Promotion of responsible fatherhood and motherhood is integral to successful child rearing and the well-being of children.

That introduction is, indeed, quite remarkable for today. The legislation then goes on to deal with a wider variety of issues. But most remarkable of all is section 912 at the end.

It is in this section you can see Congress authorize a spend of $50,000,000 for each of the next five years and specifically for "abstinence education". And these funds can be applied for only by those running abstinence education programmes and also for ...

mentoring, counselling, and adult supervision to promote abstinence from sexual activity, with a focus on those groups which are most likely to bear children out-of-wedlock.


Abstinence Education

One of the concerns of the legislation was that the term "abstinence" is now becoming fashionable and is being co-opted by "safer sex" advocates. To stop the use of this money being used for anything other than sexual abstinence outside marriage, the Welfare Reform Act defines "abstinence education" quite precisely:

The term "abstinence education" means an educational or motivational programme which:

A. has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realised by abstaining from sexual activity;

B. teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school age children;

C. teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;

D. teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity;

E. teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;

F. teaches that bearing children out-of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child's parents, and society;

G. teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increased vulnerability to sexual advances; and

H. teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.


President Clinton

Earlier this year President Clifton endorsed this section of the Welfare Reform Act in the context of some statistics of teenage pregnancy that had just been released. And he said this:

All of you need to help us send the strongest possible message: its' wrong to be pregnant or father a child unless you are married and ready to take on the responsibilities of parenthood (New York Times 5 January, 1997).

As you would expect, because this legislation carefully prevents those running "safer sex" education programmes from being able to apply for any of this state funding, the consequence is that some "safer sex" advocates are now seeking to undermine the legislation.

So how we need to pray for the Americans who are endeavouring, with some success, to turn the clock back in these matters. And we need to pray for ourselves - for a similar courage, commitment and dogged determination in this country; and also for an ability to share the vision and practical skills of the Americans.

We are nowhere so well organized as they are. Christians in the UK are currently rather depressed at the direction many in the wider church seem to be going. The huge homosexualization campaign that is being run by Stonewall and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement seems to dominate the media. There are so few that seem willing to oppose what is going on.

But praise God that good things are happening here and there in the US. There is research, there is campaigning and there is a confidence that the Lord reigns, and his purposes are being worked out.

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