Valerie Huber’s Dangerous Lesson Plan

The president's latest appointee to the Department of Health and Human services is a long-time promoter of a dangerous, ineffective abstinence-only agenda.
06/26/2017 04:03 pm ET Updated Jun 26, 2017
SAUL LOEB via Getty Images

Donald Trump has done it again. After appointing climate denier Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, anti-public education crusader Betsy DeVos to the Department of Education, and opponent of women’s and LGBT rights Roger Severino to head the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Trump has picked longtime abstinence education advocate Valerie Huber to an important post at HHS.

Valerie Huber, who considers herself “pro-life,” was for many years the President and CEO of a group called Ascend, formerly the National Abstinence Education Association. She previously managed Ohio’s state-funded Abstinence Education Program for three years from 2004-2007. Like her colleagues in Donald Trump’s orbit who reject science, Huber ignores research data that contradicts her abstinence-only agenda.

Rather than embrace authentically pro-life sex education policies, Huber prefers to promote transparently sexist principles. One program she advocated for, called “Choosing the Best,” was described by HuffPost:

A passage from the teacher guide for that curriculum, provided to HuffPost, tells the story of a knight who gets upset after the princess he is trying to save instructs him on the best way to save her. It reads:

“He never returned to the princess. Instead, he lived happily ever after in the village, and eventually married the maiden… Moral of the story: Occasional assistance may be all right, but too much will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.”

Our nation’s family planning and contraception policies must not be based on fairy tales. The facts in this matter are just too compelling.

Authentically pro-life sex education is comprehensive, not narrowly focused on abstinence. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG):

Studies have demonstrated that comprehensive sexuality education programs reduce the rates of sexual activity, sexual risk behaviors (e.g., number of partners and unprotected intercourse), sexually transmitted infections, and adolescent pregnancy.

Reducing the teen pregnancy rate is especially important because pregnancy and childbirth are riskier for adolescents than for women in their 20s and 30s. As reported by the United Nations-sponsored Facts For Life, “the pregnant adolescent is at increased risk of pregnancy complications such as eclampsia, premature labour, prolonged labour, obstructed labour, fistula, anaemia and death.” Globally, the “risk of maternal death related to pregnancy and childbirth for adolescent girls between 15 and 19 years of age accounts for some 70,000 deaths each year.”

By contrast, the abstinence-only curricula Valerie Huber supports have proved to be dangerous, ineffective, and inaccurate.

Evaluations of state-funded abstinence-only programs found no delay in first sex. In fact, of six programs evaluated for short-term changes in behavior, three found no changes, one had mixed results, and two found increased sexual activity. And an analysis of federally funded abstinence-only curricula found that over 80 percent of these materials contained false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health, including false information about the effectiveness of contraceptives, false information about the risks of abortion and religious beliefs as scientific fact.

Comprehensive sex education programs succeed when they are age- and culturally appropriate, create a safe learning environment, and help young people clarify their own values and develop skills for communicating with romantic partners. As importantly, the best programs emphasize gender equality because egalitarian relationships result in better sexual and health outcomes.

In other words, comprehensive sex education is life-affirming. It gives young people the tools and support they need to make responsible, values-based decisions. This results in delaying the initiation of sex, reducing the number of new partners, and decreasing the incidence of unprotected sex ― which, in turn, results in lower rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Valerie Huber can’t claim to be authentically “pro-life.” Her zeal for misleading young people about sex, sexuality, and healthy relationships puts their health, welfare, and even their lives at risk.

And this is the woman Donald Trump wants to direct what students learn about sex in schools? This appointment deserves a failing grade.

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