Docs Pan Abstinence-Only Sex Ed

A leading group of pediatricians says teenagers need access to birth control and emergency contraception, not the abstinence-only approach to sex education favored by religious groups and President Bush.

The recommendations are part of the American Academy of Pediatrics' updated teen pregnancy policy.

"Even though there is great enthusiasm in some circles for abstinence-only interventions, the evidence does not support abstinence-only interventions as the best way to keep young people from unintended pregnancy," said Dr. Jonathan Klein, chairman of the academy committee that wrote the new recommendations.

Teaching abstinence but not birth control makes it more likely that once teenagers initiate sexual activity they will have unsafe sex and contract sexually transmitted diseases, said Dr. S. Paige Hertweck, a pediatric obstetrician-gynecologist at the University of Louisville who provided advice for the report.

The report appears in July's Pediatrics, being published Tuesday.

It updates a 1998 policy by omitting the statement that "abstinence counseling is an important role for all pediatricians." The new policy says that while doctors should encourage adolescents to postpone sexual activity, they also should help ensure that all teens — not just those who are sexually active have access to birth control, including emergency contraception.

Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said counseling only abstinence, preferably until marriage, is the best approach because it sends a clear, consistent message. Teenagers who are sexually active should have access to contraception, but making birth control available to teens who aren't sends a contradictory message, he said.