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"Not since Margaret Sanger’s crusade to legalize birth control in the 1920s has family planning come under such assault. Pharmacists around the country are refusing to fill prescriptions for birth-control pills, exercising their right to 'refuse and refer' under the industry’s code of ethics. ...

Dec. 3 - Not since Margaret Sanger’s crusade to legalize birth control in the 1920s has family planning come under such assault. Pharmacists around the country are refusing to fill prescriptions for birth-control pills, exercising their right to “refuse and refer” under the industry’s code of ethics. These self-styled refuseniks are so ardent they generally don’t offer a referral, and in small-town America there is often only one pharmacy in town anyway.

On Capitol Hill, conservative Republicans inserted a provision in the budget to extend conscience clauses throughout the health-care industry. Democrats cried foul, and GOP leaders pulled the measure for now. But 13 states are considering 22 pieces of similar legislation that would curtail access to family-planning services, including contraceptives. “We need to say that in big neon letters,” says Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt. “Birth control has gotten to be like the air and the water. People think it’s there. We’ve got to get people to realize what’s happening.”

Feldt is lobbying for legislation called “Putting Prevention First” that would promote family-planning programs. It was scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Health Committee in September 2001, but got pushed off the agenda after the 9/11 attacks. “It’s a great vehicle to force the discussion—to force anti-choice zealots to own up to the fact they’re against family planning,” she says. Feldt is counting on the new Democratic leader, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, to carry the cause. Reid opposes abortion but is a strong supporter of family planning. He’s the ideal ally in Feldt’s view—“anti-choice and pro-contraception.”

The Planned Parenthood building on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington is under tight security. A guard answers the door, which is locked. In the upstairs sitting room that Feldt uses as an office, pictures of her four grandchildren grace the mantel. Asked how she got into this business, she says with a laugh, “It was fate.” Pregnant at 15 in the hard-scrabble town of Temple, Texas, she married her high-school sweetheart and had three children by the time she was 20. “Then the birth-control pill came out and saved my life.” She went to college, got a degree in sociology and a job as a teacher with Head Start. Her classroom was in a Roman Catholic Church in Odessa, Texas, where the priest was on the Planned Parenthood board. His parishioners were poor, and he told her that he couldn’t tell them to have a baby every year. “I didn’t realize how radical he was,” she says.

She started out as a volunteer for Planned Parenthood and rose through the ranks to become president in 1996. Under her leadership, the organization endorsed a White House candidate—John Kerry—for the first time in its 88-year history. The Democrat’s defeat was a disappointment, but Feldt is somebody who by nature sees a setback as an opportunity. “What seems like a defeat makes people pay attention,” she says, “and then you ride the wave.”  (

 Today schools are leaning towards abstinence only programs in schools instead of educating today’s youth on all aspects of safe sex and birth control.  This is going to do a lot of harm in the long run when kids don’t understand about sexually transmitted diseases and don’t know how to properly protect themselves against pregnancy and diseases. 

 Imagine a driver's education course in which teachers show students grisly photos of traffic accidents but never tell them to stop at red lights or buckle their seat belts, and you've a pretty good idea of what abstinence-only sex education is like. Abstinence-only programs try to scare and shame teens, teaching only the negative consequences of sexuality without telling young people what they can do to stay safe and healthy.


Now a congressional staff analysis on the content of the federally funded sex education programs used in 25 states reveals they're just plain wrong.


The report found that more than 80% of abstinence-only curricula contain false, misleading or distorted information about reproductive health.


The analysis, released by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), found that many of these curricula contain false information about the effectiveness of contraceptives and the risks of abortion. Several of the curricula contain basic scientific errors and present religious views as proven fact. Some curricula also treat gender stereotypes as scientific truth.

Here are some examples: In several abstinence-only programs, students are erroneously told that condoms fail to protect against HIV and that pregnancy occurs one out of every seven times that couples use a condom.


 One textbook states that touching another person's genitals "can result in pregnancy." Another suggests that 5% to 10% of women who have legal abortions will become sterile as a result.


One curriculum refers to a 43-day-old fetus as "a thinking person." Another incorrectly lists exposure to sweat and tears as risk factors for HIV transmission. And one textbook sanctimoniously instructs teenagers: "Women gauge their happiness and judge their success on their relationships. Men's happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments."


California has been wise enough to see through the hype of abstinence-only sex education, and it continues to be one of the few states that refuse to accept the federal funding for abstinence-only curricula.


Californians mandate HIV/AIDS education in our schools and require that all sexuality education is comprehensive and medically accurate. And our attention to the needs of our state's youth has paid off. Our teen pregnancy rate has fallen by 40% over the last 10 years — the largest decrease of any state except Alaska.


Abstinence-only curricula, such as those being pushed and funded by the Bush administration, aren't just riddled with errors — they clearly have no positive effect on the behavior of teens. Researchers at Columbia University found that while virginity "pledge" programs did help some of the participants delay sex, 88% still had premarital sex.


Additionally, the rates of sexually transmitted infections among pledgers showed no statistically significant difference from non-pledgers.


Despite these problems, the federal government will squander an astonishing $168 million for these programs in fiscal 2005. Although this falls short of the $270 million President Bush initially proposed, it more than doubles the amount spent in 2001. Meanwhile, programs that work go unfunded.


Proponents of abstinence-only sex education believe that knowledge can be dangerous. Ignorance, however, can be fatal. Last week, we marked World AIDS Day. When our young people are at risk of HIV infection as well as other sexually transmitted infections, it is unconscionable to deprive them of information that can save their lives.

Mary-Jane Wagle is CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.  (