Abstinence-only advocate defended misleading curricula with more distortions

Dr. Joseph S. McIlhaney, Jr., president of the conservative Medical Institute for Sexual Health, attempted to defend federally funded abstinence-only sexual education programs against a report PDF, recently issued by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), which stated that many of these programs teach false information. But McIlhaney instead provided further false information about reproductive health and distorted the results of comprehensive sexual education programs. McIlhaney's false claims came on the December 6 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, where Matthews failed to correct his guest's false assertions.

As Media Matters for America has previously noted, the December 2004 report PDF issued by Waxman found that “over 80%” of the curricula of federally funded abstinence-only education programs “contain false, misleading or distorted information about reproductive health.”

MCILHANEY FALSE CLAIM #1: NIH data shows condoms reduce risk of common STDs only “by about 50 percent of the time”

McIlhaney falsely asserted that “actual data” from National Institutes of Health (NIH) shows that condoms only reduce the risk of transmitting chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and herpes “by about 50 percent of the time.” But a 2001 National Institutes of Health (NIH) study PDF on the “Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Prevention,” which contains the NIH's most recent data on condom effectiveness, offered no such statistics; the report actually found that there is “a strong probability of condom effectiveness when used correctly.” While the NIH report concluded that “there was insufficient evidence from the epidemiological studies on these diseases to draw definite conclusions about the effectiveness of the latex male condom in reducing the transmission of these diseases,” it noted that “condoms provide a highly effective barrier to transmission of particles of similar size to those of the smallest STD viruses.”

FALSE CLAIM #2: Comprehensive sex ed programs don't lower pregnancy rates

McIlhaney claimed that no “comprehensive sex ed programs ... have actually lowered pregnancy rates.” Besides teaching abstinence, comprehensive sexual education teaches students about contraception options, including condoms. In 2000, the American Medical Association endorsed "[c]omprehensive, age-appropriate sex education programs," because they “offer the best hope of stemming sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies.” A report on “Health and Sexuality Education” by the progressive Center for Policy Alternatives found that comprehensive sexual education curricula have been successful in reducing pregnancy rates, noting in particular one such program “taught by a Maine community group” which “contributed to a 35 percent decline in the teen pregnancy rate over the 20 years the program has been in existence.”

FALSE CLAIM #3: Report shows that teen pregnancy rates dropped because teens are choosing abstinence

McIlhaney asserted that “a report in the Journal of Adolescent Family Medicine” found that fewer teens have become pregnant “because of their choosing abstinence.” While Media Matters was unable to locate a publication called the Journal of Adolescent Family Medicine, the Houston Chronicle reported on November 16, 2004, that “a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health” gave nearly half the credit for declining teen pregnancy rates to “improved contraceptive practices.” The Chronicle reported: “The survey concluded that 53 percent of the decline in teen pregnancy rates can be attributed to decreased sexual activity, and 47 percent can be attributed to improved contraceptive practices.”

According to a February 2004 Salon.com article, McIlhaney is “an old Bush friend” whom President Bush appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and the advisory committee to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Salon noted that McIlhaney “was reprimanded by the Texas Department of Health for spreading false information about sexually transmitted diseases and condoms' ineffectiveness” -- and also pointed out that McIlhaney's Austin, Texas-based Medical Institute for Sexual Health “has received $1.5 million in federal contracts related to abstinence education and STD research.”