By: Dr. Susan Berry
Last week, President Donald Trump appointed a longstanding advocate of abstinence sex education to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and leftwing groups are furious.
Valerie Huber, co-founder and president/CEO of Ascend – an organization that promotes abstinence sex education, an approach that normalizes sexual delay – has been appointed as chief of staff to the assistant secretary for health at HHS, under Secretary Tom Price.
Amanda Marcotte at Salon says that, with the appointment of Huber, abstinence education – which she calls the “shame-and-ignorance approach of the Bush era” – is making a “comeback under Trump.”
She bemoans Trump’s pro-life policies and what she views as “attacks” on “contraception access,” adding:
Now it seems as if a third front is opening in the Trumpian war on other people’s sex lives: The return of abstinence-only education, which many Americans believe had died off after President George W. Bush left office. Well, abstinence-only ed is coming back, but this time around, its proponents hope that voters, especially parents, don’t notice the return to the classroom of religious anti-sex propaganda.
The leftwing Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) released a press statement, stating the organization is “angry and appalled, though no longer surprised,” at Huber’s appointment.
“The Trump Administration continues to demonstrate their complete disregard and disdain for science and human rights with the appointment of an individual who has an ethically questionable history and ties to anti-LGBTQ advocates in a leadership position within HHS,” says Chitra Panjabi, SIECUS president and CEO, adding:
Valerie Huber pushed a religiously-motivated agenda to promote false and misleading information about sexual health and deny young people the education and skills they need to lead healthy lives. The people served by the programs within the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary deserve more than a science-denialist who has built a career on perpetuating fear, shame, and stigma of sexuality for our nation’s young people.
Huber told Christian ministry Focus On The Family that she wanted to talk more about waiting to be sexually active with students after looking into what her son was being taught in health class.
In 1999, she founded a “character-building and risk-avoidance” program called REACH and then managed Ohio’s state-funded Department of Health’s Abstinence Education Program for three years from 2004–2007. Her work in the position reached100,000 students in the state each year.
Huber’s appointment comes just weeks after the release of Trump’s Fiscal year 2018 budget, which, Ascend says, calls for “a dramatic change in federal sex education policy.”
Trump’s budget proposes maintaining funding for Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) education – a public health term Huber prefers over “abstinence” –and eliminating the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPP), a Comprehensive sex education (CSE) approach that was initiated early on in the Obama administration.
In his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2017, former President Barack Obama eliminated all funding for abstinence education.
Planned Parenthood – which receives grants from the federal government for teaching CSE in schools – tweeted its disapproval of Huber’s appointment:
Ascend, however, states that research has shown more than 80% of students in the Obama-era TPP either fared worse or no better than their peers.
Additionally, Ascend says the numerous studies supporting comprehensive sex education have produced results that “are not as compelling as they first appear.”
The group cites weaknesses in the research, as well as flawed metrics and ignorance of common research protocols.
“We applaud President Trump for his immediate efforts to give more youth the skills they need to avoid sexual risk,” Huber said upon release of Trump’s budget. “Currently, only 10 cents of every federal sex education dollar is devoted to SRA education. With the elimination of the TPP program and maintenance of the Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Program, about 20 cents of every dollar will be devoted to SRA education.”
“The majority of teens have not had sex, far fewer than 25 years ago,” she added. “We are eager to work with both Congress and the Administration to ensure that these increasingly healthy choices are reinforced in sex education classes across America.”