A critical part of choice is access to medically accurate and comprehensive sexual education about reproduction and reproductive health care in a positive and non-shaming environment. Without comprehensive and accurate information, reproductive choice is a not a reality. Sexual education programs taught in Ohio schools are required to stress abstinence-only before marriage, and are not obligated to include any information about contraception, sexual orientation, avoiding coercion in intimate relationships, family communication, or healthy decision making (Guttmacher Institute, 2016). Avoiding these important topics not only increases the risk of contracting STDs and unplanned pregnancies, but also leaves young people more vulnerable to sexual abuse and depression. Furthermore, sexual education programs must include and stress abstinence as the means of prevention of HIV/AIDS, but do not need to include information about effective condom use, thus putting people at risk of exposure to fatal diseases (Guttmacher Institute, 2016). If young children are not taught in a comprehensive way about sexuality, it becomes more difficult for them to develop a language to express themselves and to know the difference between sexual exploitation and healthy relationships. Although the specific content for sexual education is up to the each school district, Ohio requirements clearly stress abstinence-only education, putting youth at risk.
There are several federal grants and state funds that subsidize abstinence-only education. The main funding sources are Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE), Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA), Competitive Abstinence Education (CAE), and Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage, which is a federal grant that requires that Ohio state funds match $3 for every $4 federal (SIECUS). In the fiscal year of 2008, grant money allocated $6,376,091 towards abstinence-only education; many of these grants extended through 2011, 2012, and 2013 (SIECUS). In the fiscal year of 2014, $2,130,799 was allocated toward abstinence only education (SIECUS). The recipients of these grants are as follows: Abstinence the Better Choice (ABC) Inc., Abstinence ‘Til Marriage (ATM) Education Inc., Central Ohio Youth for Christ; Elizabeth Helps, Empowered by the Truth, Elizabeth’s New Life Center (an anti-choice crisis pregnancy center), Operation Keepsake Inc., The RIDGE Project Inc., Saint Vincent Mercy Medical Center, and Catholic Social Services of Miami Valley. The RIDGE Project collaborates with and funds two anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers: Women’s Resource Center of Hancock County and the Community Pregnancy Centers of Northwest Ohio.
These abstinence-only education programs are based around shaming sexuality and teaching young women and girls that their value lies in their virginity through practices such as father/daughter purity balls, story scenarios that teach young women that they have no value if they are sexually active, and discussion groups that instill sexist stereotypes. For example, Elizabeth’s New Life Center, which received $120,000 in federal grants between 2005 and 2013, teaches eighth grade students through a “Gender Approach Project” (SIECUS). The project separates males and females for discussions; for girls the topic is, “Do you want to be treated liked a Treasure or a Target?” whereas boys discuss, “Do you want to act like a Protector or a Predator?” (SIECUS). The curriculum of Abstinence ‘Til Marriage (ATM) Education Inc. (which received $600,000 from 2006 to 2011) takes shaming young women to a whole new level. In one scenario, “The Party Room,” high school student Rochelle accuses another high school student, Jason, of raping her (SIECUS). ATM Education then shames the alleged victim, saying, “Did you think a rape occurred? Answer: We don’t really know if Rochelle consented to have sex with Jason…Unfortunately, we are left judging Ro’s honesty by her character and her actions…Monica implied Rochelle had a promiscuous reputation and the whole school seemed to know it” (SIECUS). This approach teaches students that “promiscuous” women have no legitimate standing when they accuse someone of sexual assault. Messages like these are contrary to what Ohio’s youth should be learning in order to develop healthy relationships with regard to sexuality.
In more recent years, some federal funding has supported comprehensive, evidence-based sexual education programs. The Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH) grant for comprehensive sexual health education allocated $225,000 in 2013 and $314,882 in 2014 to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (SIECUS). DASH also funded the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the Ohio Department of Health to collect and report the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and School Health Profile data, with a total of $115,000 in 2013 and $114,970 in 2014 (SIECUS). The Ohio Department of Health received $1,751,490 in 2014 and $1,788,594 in 2013 through the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) grant, which subsidizes science-based comprehensive sexual education that includes both abstinence and contraception information . Prior to 2013, there is a lack of clear evidence of any state or federal support for comprehensive sexual education programs.
In recent years federal grants also financed education and research programs to prevent teen pregnancy. The President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI) Tier 1 grant funded the YWCA of Hamilton County for the purposes of “replicat[ing] evidence-based programs that have been proven effective through rigorous evaluation to reduce teenage pregnancy, behavioral risk factors underlying teenage pregnancy, or other associated risk factors” (SIECUS). The organization received a $405,575 grant for 2010 through 2014. The Personal Responsibility Education Innovative Strategies Program (PREIS) grant “supports research and demonstration projects that implement innovative strategies for preventing pregnancy among youth ages 10-19 who are homeless, in foster care, live in areas with high teen birth rates, come from racial or ethnic minority groups, or have HIV/AIDS” (Family &Youth Services Bureau, 2015). The Ohio Health Research and Innovation Institute received a $560,344 grant for 2010 through 2014 through PREIS (SIECUS).