Ads target Gov. Patrick over abstinence programs

Tom Benner

A newspaper and radio ad campaign to be rolled out Wednesday targets Gov. Deval Patrick's refusal of federal money for abstinence-only sex education.

 “Deval Patrick doesn’t want 11-year-olds taught to say ‘no’ to sex,” reads one of the print ads over a photograph of two middle-school-age girls. Another ad asks: “Should 12-year-olds be having sex?”

 The ads are sponsored by the National Abstinence Education Association and urges people to contact the governor and urge him to reverse his decision to decline more than $700,000 in federal funding to promote abstinence to middle school students. The print ads and similar radio ads will air during the next week.

 Patrick’s office dismissed the ad campaign, saying abstinence-exclusive programs don’t go far enough.

 “The administration believes that students deserve comprehensive health education that includes scientifically-based information related to sexuality,” Cyndi Roy, the governor’s press aide, said in a statement. “We support abstinence messages, but not at the exclusion of health information that we know will keep kids safe.”

 Patrick maintains that exclusively focusing on abstinence from premarital sex denies information that could help children avoid pregnancy and disease.

 “It appears to me to be refusing free money,” said Edward Saunders of Quincy, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference. “Abstinence education is not taught by itself, it’s taught as part of a comprehensive sex education program.”

 In past years, the bulk of the grant has gone to Healthy Futures, a faith-based health education initiative that teaches some 7,000 middle schoolers a year to wait until marriage to have sex. The Dorchester-based group teaches in school districts including Boston, Duxbury and Taunton, and relies on the grant for $500,000, about half its annual budget.

 The ad can also be seen at the web sites www.voiceyourchoice.info. or www.voice-your-choice.org It will be unveiled at an 11:30 am press conference at the State House today, with Healthy Futures executive director Rebecca Ray and others urging Patrick to accept the federal funds.

 Patrick, who vetoed the federal grant from the state budget this summer, has earlier cited studies questioning the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education.

 In a radio appearance last month, Patrick said teaching only abstinence isn’t as effective as comprehensive sex education, but added he supports abstinence as one component of sex ed, and faulted critics who say otherwise. “It is noise and nonsense,” Patrick said. “I support the idea of abstinence education. I’m just not willing to do it with federal funds and strings attached.”

 Other states to reject the federal grants to teach abstinence-only sex ed are New Jersey, California, Ohio, Wisconsin, Maine, Rhode Island, Montana and Connecticut.

 Massachusetts has received the grant since 1998, with the money paying for public service announcements discouraging teenagers from having sex outside marriage. In 2005, Gov. Mitt Romney redirected the money to public school classes that stress abstinence as the only surefire way to avoid pregnancy and disease. The shift coincided with new federal stipulations on how the grant money may be used.

Tom Benner of The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.) may be reached at tbenner@ledger.com.