Accuracy in Media

A Department of Health and Human Services bureaucrat who lost out in a debate over sex education to a group of political appointees went crying to the mainstream media, leading to a series of misguided and slanted stories.

The headline on the NBC News site, “Notes, emails reveal Trump appointees’ war to end HHS teen pregnancy program: Political appointees ended the HHS program over objections of career experts,” sums up the angle most took.

The notion that political appointees overrode career staffers plays a prominent role in all the stories given many of those staffers are politically in line with the journalists and political appointees in the Trump administration obviously are not.

“The Trump administration’s abrupt cancellation of a federal program to prevent teen pregnancy last year was directed by political appointees over the objections of career experts in the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the program, according to internal notes and emails obtained by NBC News,” the NBC story begins.

“The trove shows three appointees with strict pro-abstinence beliefs – including Victoria Huber, the then-chief of staff for the department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health – guided the process to end a program many medical professionals credit with helping to bring the nation’s teen pregnancy rate to an all-time low.”

None of the stories reported that 90 percent of the sex-ed programs the federal government funds use a comprehensive sex-ed approach – in which the biology is explained along with demonstrations of the use of contraception and how to tell if one is pregnant – and 80 percent of the students in those programs fared either worse or no better on measurements of sexual experience, according to research by the Department of Health and Human Services conducted during the Obama administration.

None of the stories reported that the Obama administration abruptly cut off funding for abstinence-only education and research, shutting down 170 studies in progress that were evaluating the effectiveness of abstinence-only. Those studies were building on the work of researchers who reported in 2010 that the abstinence-only approach was indeed highly effective.

In the study of 662 African-American students, two-thirds of those who had taken abstinence-only sex ed had not initiated sexual activity, compared to half the others. It was more than half, in fact, among those who received a safe-sex curriculum that stressed contraception but not abstinence.

Instead of data, the stories went for an emotional tug. Evelyn Kappeler, who ran the program defunded by the Trump administration, lamented to reporters she was largely kept in the dark about the cuts to the program and sidelined in the rush to kill it.

“In a July 17, 2017, note, she says she was admonished to ‘get in line’ and told it was not her place to ask questions about the agency’s use of funds,” NBC reported. “In a July 28 note, Kappeler recalled she was frustrated about the time this process is taking and the fat that her staff has not been part of the discussions. She’s described as being ‘so rattled,’ that ‘my reaction when I got [off] the phone was to cry.’”

The way the media knows this is bad is because Huber is associated with it. She came from Ascend, which used to be the National Abstinence Education Association, which the Jezebel website describes as “an abstinence-only association that really doesn’t want teens to do it or know anything about doing it safely.” Not mentioned is that research shows Ascend’s stand reflects the views of 90 percent of parents overall and 80 percent of Democrat parents.

The Jezebel story leaves us with this brain teaser.

“Ascend, contrary to all available evidence, attributes the record-low teen pregnancy rates to teens embracing abstinence,” it says. “While there are multiple factors contributing to this decline – including an overall reduction in “risk behaviors” among teens – most credible research points instead to increased access to birth control and better sex education which, again, Ascend totally opposes.”

So it’s not refraining from sex that has reduced teen pregnancy. It’s refraining from “risky behaviors.” And condoms, the distribution of which has not been proven to reduce teen pregnancy.





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