Friday, April 01, 2005

145 Organizations (including us) Protest New HHS Website for Parents

March 31, 2005

Secretary Michael O. Leavitt

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Leavitt,

We the undersigned are writing to express our deep concern with the Department of Health and Human Services' recently launched website: . All of us agree that parents should be the primary sexuality educators of their children. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us to make certain that parents receive the accurate information and resources they need to achieve this difficult task. Unfortunately, fails to meet these goals and instead, relies on fear to motivate and contains many errors and biases that undermine its intent of encouraging parent-child communication around sex and sexuality. This website presents biased and inaccurate information as fact and does not address the needs of many youth, including sexually active youth, youth who have been or are being sexually abused, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.

The website dictates values to parents rather than helping them to incorporate their own beliefs into discussions regarding sex and sexuality. For example, while discussing what they can do if their child has become sexually active, parents are told how to convince their teens to stop having sex by telling their children that they are "worth it." No resources or suggestions are provided for parents whose teen remains sexually active, implying that these youth are not "worth it." Another example suggests to parents that "always being prepared by having condoms" is a false sense of security, regardless of whether or not their teen is sexually active. Most parents want their young people to use condoms if they are sexually active.

Additionally, the website contains inaccurate information regarding the effectiveness of condoms and the ability of youth to properly use condoms and other forms of contraception. For example, states that it is easier to prevent a teen's first sexual experience rather than to increase contraceptive use, research has shown that programs that include both messages actually effectively do both. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, condom usage among sexually active high school students has gone up almost twenty percent in the past two decades (from 46 percent to 63 percent). Messages to teens should encourage them to delay sexual activity and, when sexually active, to use condoms and other forms of contraception. also contains a distressing lack of information for parents of sexually abused and assaulted youth. While it is commendable that the website includes some of the signs that a young person might have experienced sexual abuse in youth, it lists only one resource for parents, and this resource does not focus specifically on sexual abuse, but rather on all forms of child abuse.

The website also fails to address the unique needs of parents with LGBTQ children. Whenever discusses LGBTQ youth, it uses outdated and alienating language and ideas. For example, it repeatedly uses the terms "alternative lifestyle" and "homosexual." This language assumes that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) is a choice and also reduces LGB people to the mere equivalent of their sexual activity. The website also fails to include any information about transgender youth. Referrals for further information for LGBTQ youth and their parents are conspicuously absent.

The website also contains language that is clearly anti-choice in nature. For example, states that "abortion complications" are one of the major reasons for infertility. In reality, less than 1 percent of women receiving an abortion experience any major. Further, the website omits the more likely causes of infertility, such as blocked fallopian tubes. In three other examples:

• In its definition of menstruation, the website states that "if the egg is fertilized, this lining will nourish and protect the unborn child." "Unborn child" is not medically correct language; embryo or fetus would be accurate.

• The website defines abortion as "ending a pregnancy before a live birth occurs by removing the fetus or unborn baby from the uterus." Again, there is an agenda inherent in the language used.

• It is also extremely disturbing that includes a radical change in the definition of pregnancy. The medically accepted definition, which HHS previously used, states that pregnancy begins at implantation. claims that pregnancy begins much earlier, at fertilization. This departure flies in the face of the medical community, shows a blatant disregard for science, and is a clear attempt to insert anti-choice rhetoric into such straight-forward things as definitions.

Also troubling is that only one non-governmental organization is credited as having worked with HHS to create—the National Physicians Center for Family Resources (NPC). The NPC represents views that are far outside the values of mainstream Americans and the public health community. To begin, the NPC has repeatedly asserted a false connection between abortion and increased risk of breast cancer and has advocated for non-science-based interventions such as abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. They have also said that teaching young people about contraception is a "prescription for continued disaster." These are not messages supported by the public health community. Not surprisingly, the NPC has strong ties to right wing religious organizations, like the California Family Council, Alabama Family Alliance, and Focus on the Family and boasts of alliances with fringe medical associations and doctors such as the Alabama Physician Resource Council, the Physicians Consortium and Dr. Laura Schlessinger. By creating the website with only one organization—and one that has questionable credentials in this area—HHS has dangerously narrowed the information included on and in turn, shortchanged the very parents the site is meant to serve.

We respectfully request that the website be immediately taken down and that a formal review of its content and techniques for communication and behavioral learning be launched. This review should be done by a broadly accepted panel of experts in parent/child communication with well established credentials in this area. We also request any and all information related to whether or not a competitive process was used to choose NPC and the amount of taxpayer money, if any, NPC received for assisting in this effort.

We look forward to a response and to working with you further on creating a website that truly meets the needs of all parents and is based on the best available research.


9to5, National Association of Working Women
ABCD Health Services (Boston, MA)
Abortion Access Project
Advocates for Youth
AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc.
AIDS Action Council
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
AIDS Project Los Angeles
AIDS Resource Alliance, Inc. (Williamsport, PA)
Alan Guttmacher Institute
Alaska Pro Choice Alliance
Alaska Women's Lobby
American Academy of HIV Medicine
American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists
American Civil Liberties Union
ACLU Foundation of Southern California
American Counseling Association
American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR)
American Humanist Association
American Medical Student Association
American Social Health Association
Americans for Democratic Action
Berkshire Center for Families and Children (Pittsfield, MA)
Berkshire Coalition to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (Pittsfield, MA)
Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc. (Groton, MA)
Care Bearers (Yakima, WA)
Cascade AIDS Project (Portland, OR)
Center for Health and Gender Equity
Center for HIV Law and Policy
Center for Human Development (Pleasant Hill, CA)
Center for Reproductive Rights
Center for Women Policy Studies
Community Health Partnership of Little Rock, AR
Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)
Department of Community Health (William Paterson University, NJ)
Equal Partners in Faith
Exponents (New York, NY)
Family Planning Advocates of New York State
Family Planning Association of Northeast Ohio, Inc.
Family Planning of the Big Horns (Sheridan, WY)
Family Planning Services of Lorain County, OH
Feminist Majority Foundation
Feminist Women's Health Center (WA)
FutureNet–The Iowa Network for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, Parenting, & Sexual Health
The Gay/Lesbian Faculty/Staff Association (Montclair State University, NJ)
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network
Gay and Lesbian Medical Association
Gay Men's Health Crisis
Girls Incorporated
Harm Reduction Coalition
Health Access and Privacy Alliance
Health Care of Southeastern Massachusetts, Inc.
Health Department of Ventura High School (Ventura, CA)
Health Initiatives for Youth (San Francisco, CA)
Healthy Teen Network
Human Rights Campaign
Human Rights Watch
Ibis Reproductive Health (Cambridge, MA)
Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health
Indiana Civil Liberties Union
Indiana Justice Fund
Institute for Reproductive Health Access
Latina Initiative (Denver, CO)
Legal Momentum
Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy
Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPPP)
Ms. Foundation for Women
National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum
National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health
National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA-US)
National Coalition of STD Directors
National Council of Jewish Women
National Education Association, Health Information Network
National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association
National Organization for Women
National Women's Health Network
National Youth Advocacy Coalition
NARAL Pro-Choice America
NARAL Pro-Choice New Jersey Foundation
NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina
NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin
Nashville CARES
Negotiating the Maze (Albany, CA)
New Morning Foundation (SC)
New York AIDS Coalition
Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry
Northwest Women's Law Center
Northwest Wyoming Family Planning
Ohio AIDS Coalition
Okanogan Family Planning (Okanogan, WA)
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana
Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California
Planned Parenthood Association of Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Planned Parenthood Health Services of Southwestern Oregon
Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts
Planned Parenthood Northern Michigan
Planned Parenthood of Alaska
Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma, Inc
Planned Parenthood of Central Ohio
Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette (OR)
Planned Parenthood of East Central Illinois
Planned Parenthood of Hawaii
Planned Parenthood of Indiana
Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington
Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, NY
Planned Parenthood of Nebraska & Council Bluffs
Planned Parenthood of New Mexico
Planned Parenthood of Pasadena
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains
Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura & San Luis Obispo Counties (CA)
Planned Parenthood of South Central Michigan
Planned Parenthood of South Central New York, Inc.
Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona, Inc.
Planned Parenthood of Southern New Jersey
Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region
Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania
Population Connection
Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota
Program for the Study of Sexuality, Gender, Health, and Human Rights (Columbia University, NY)
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Indiana
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice of Massachusetts
Reproductive Health Technologies Project
Republican Majority for Choice (NY Chapter)
Sexuality Education for Life–Minnesota Coalition
The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)
Six Rivers Planned Parenthood (Eureka, CA)
The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality
Sociologists for Women of Society
South Carolina Equality Coalition
Tapestry Health Services (MA) (Montgomery County, MD)
Treatment Access Expansion Project
Tri-State Alliance for Gays & Lesbians (IL, IN, KY)
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Washington County (Hillsboro, OR)
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Urban Youth Development Academy
The Well Project
Women of Reform Judaism
Women's Coalition South Bay (Redondo Beach, CA)
Women's Law Project
Women's Resource Center, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
Young Parents' Education Center

Dr. Alma Golden, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs
Wade Horn, PhD, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families
Michael J. O'Grady, PhD, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation
Dr. Cristina Beato, Acting Assistant Secretary for Health


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out the Talk Topic "Talk about how your teen might feel".

The statement "9 out of 10 teens thought it was important that society sends a strong message that teens should abstain from sex" is annotated to "Ibid".

It's even more frightening the things they *don't* annotate.

April 02, 2005 1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a clarification: The Ibid refers to the report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy cited in the previous end note. But it is interesting to highlight the data from the same report that was omitted from the paragraph. Notably, that even though teens want a strong abstinence message from society, a solid majority of adults and teens -- 76% of adults and 60% of teens -- believe teens should get more information about BOTH abstinence AND contraception.

April 03, 2005 11:05 PM  

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