The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a legal opinion on Wednesday finding that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must ensure that abstinence-only programs receiving federal funding include medically accurate information about condoms. In its letter to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, the GAO found that Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Wade Horn was incorrect when he said that abstinence-only programs did not fall under the purview of the Public Health Service Act, which requires that programs discussing sexually transmitted infections include medically accurate information about the effectiveness of condoms.
Though the GAO did not examine federally funded abstinence-only programs for violations of this law, the legal opinion was hailed as a victory by reproductive health advocates. “We welcome the GAO’s finding and eagerly await the next steps by HHS to come into compliance with federal law,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “For the better part of 25 years, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have been permitted to use tax-payer dollars to lie about the effectiveness of condoms and the current Administration has, time and again, failed to hold these programs accountable for much of anything except cashing their grant checks,” continued Smith.
“We have no disagreement that abstinence education curricula should be medically accurate,” said Horn, according to the Associated Press. “In fact, we insist on it.” However, Horn told the AP that the GAO opinion will not have an effect on the abstinence-only literature.