What We Know About The Abstinence Advocate Who Will Oversee American Sex Education
President Trump recently appointed Valerie Huber, staunch champion for abstinence-only education, as chief of staff for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The appointment of a candidate who is against comprehensive sex education falls in line with the Trump administration's 2018 federal budget, which increases funds to extend abstinence education.
HHS administers more than 100 programs in medicine, public health, and social services. The department also oversees the Office of Adolescent Health, which is the main area of concern for advocates of comprehensive sex education. The office conducts research and training on preventing teen pregnancy and STDs.
Until recently, Huber served as president and CEO of Ascend, formerly known as the National Abstinence Education Association. Nowadays Huber and Ascend prefer the term "sexual risk avoidance" rather than abstinence. She also led Ohio's abstinence education program from 2004 to 2007.
News of Huber's hiring first broke with a White House staff email obtained by The Hill. According to the email, Don Wright, HHS' acting assistant secretary for health, said Huber's "wealth of professional experience in the field of public policy will serve her well in this position."
Providing “abstinence only” or “until marriage” messages as sole option for teenagers is flawed from scientific & medical ethics viewpoints https://t.co/YMrMWTnFI6— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) June 6, 2017
Huber joins the administration alongside Vice President Mike Pence, a fellow supporter of "the only safe sex is no sex" education. This is the same Mike Pence who doesn't know how condoms work, having once described them as "too modern" and "very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases."
But what's Huber's track record like? Let's find out.
She Thinks Sexual Freedom Is A Myth
As a spokesperson for teen sexual health, Huber has been quoted in interviews and bemoaned in her own articles that mainstream culture normalizes premarital sex and contraceptives. This normalization is a relic from counterculture extremists and has given us sexual freedom, which she describes as "a historic lie." While painting this picture of moral decay, she usually skips over fun facts, like the effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted infections, or how the decline in teen pregnancies can be attributed to birth control.
During her time at Ascend, she promoted a curriculum called "Choosing the Best." The abstinence-centered program for 11th and 12th grades teaches students how to find their soulmates while avoiding five traps, one of which is sex, of course. The program ends by asking students to take a commitment and abstinence pledge.
Her Organization Pushed To Defund The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program
The Office of Adolescent Health leads the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, an evidence-based initiative to reduce not only teenage pregnancy, but also STDs and other health risks. As sexual health expert Martha Kempner points out, Huber's position of power gives her the possibility to influence the very program she tried to defund, as well as the Office of Population Affairs' Title X program, which provides reproductive health services and contraception to low-income women.
Huber's aversion toward comprehensive sex education ignores national data, including the correlation between teen pregnancy and sex ed. The states with the highest teen pregnancy and birth rates tend to be the states where schools promote abstinence. Texas, for example, has one of the highest teen birth rates in the country (73 per 1,000 pregnancies) and is also where the majority of school districts offer either abstinence-only education or no sex ed at all.
She Loves Using Arbitrarily Placed Quotation Marks
Huber has written numerous articles for Public Discourse, the online journal published by the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank. There she argued that "HHS has a responsibility to correct misinformation surrounding its list of 'evidence-based' sex education curricula."
The publication once served as her soapbox, where she wrote things like this:
Her unnecessary use of quotation marks is boggling. What does "safe sex" mean? Is something no longer evidence-based once it becomes "evidence-based?" If I ask what kind of pizza you want and you say pepperoni, but throw up the finger quotes, WHAT DO YOU ACTUALLY WANT?
I guess we'll have to wait and see what Huber will try to "accomplish" as HHS' Chief of Staff.