Government watchdog reminds Bush administration that programs must contain medically accurate information on effectiveness of condoms
WASHINGTON Government auditors reminded the Bush administration on Oct. 19 that literature distributed by federally funded abstinence programs must contain medically accurate information about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
The Government Accountability Office made no judgment about the accuracy of the literature. The government watchdog did say the law requires the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that materials dealing with sexually transmitted diseases “shall contain medically accurate information on condom effectiveness.”
The Bush administration has contended that materials prepared by the programs, which received about $170 million in 2006, did not fall within the scope of the statute.
“We have no disagreement that abstinence education curricula should be medically accurate,” said Wade Horn, a top HHS official. “In fact, we insist on it.”
Horn, assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, said the administration did not need a law to tell it that the information had to be correct. The GAO’s opinion will have no effect on the literature, he said.
The GAO opinion was praised by groups that allege abstinence education programs routinely exaggerate condom failure rates.
“For the better part of 25 years, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have been permitted to use taxpayer dollars to lie about the effectiveness of condoms and the current administration has, time and again, failed to hold these programs accountable for much of anything except cashing their grant checks,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.
The council distributes sexual health literature to educators, parents and others. It also conducts workshops and provides technical assistance.
The requirement about providing medically accurate information on condom effectiveness was part of an appropriations bill approved in 2000.
Horn said his agency’s reading of the statute was that it applied to other activities, such as training material provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A CDC fact sheet for public health personnel states: “For persons whose sexual behaviors place them at risk for STDs, correct and consistent use of the male latex condom can reduce the risk of STD transmission. However, no protective method is 100 percent effective.”
The CDC manual said condoms used correctly are “highly effective” in preventing the virus that causes AIDS and “can reduce the risk” of transmission of gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 27, 2006.