Just Abstain from CNN? Costello Favors Left-Wing Voices on Sex Education

Carol Costello, CNN Correspondent  NewsBusters.orgCNN’s Carol Costello report on Thursday’s American Morning about the end of abstinence-only sex education in North Carolina leaned to the left in the featured sound bites. Three clips came from those who endorsed “comprehensive” sex education, including one who worked for an organization that promotes abortion overseas, as opposed to only one clip from a conservative who favored the old program.

Costello’s report, which came just before the bottom of the 7 am Eastern hour, was part of a week-long series about “Educating America.” The CNN correspondent began with a car analogy to describe the transition to the more liberal sex ed program: “You know, it’s sort of like going from zero to 100 miles per hour. School districts, like some in North Carolina, have not taught kids about how to use birth control or how to control sexually-transmitted diseases- or prevent them, I should say- and now they’re trying to come up with a more comprehensive sex education class. It’s challenging.”

After describing how the abstinence-only program in North Carolina “didn’t have the lasting effect on teenagers officials had hoped,” Costello played the first of two clips from Colleen Bridger of the Gaston County Health Department. She acted like she wasn’t surprised at all that the abstinence program didn’t work: “They’ve [teenagers] gotten pregnant more often. Imagine that? Our STD rates are going up. Our pregnancy rates are going up.”

Bridger’s biography for the University of Michigan School of Public Health (where she worked as an instructor) described that the county health director “worked as…a health systems researcher for…international development organizations (FHI and IPAS).” IPAS, based out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, describe themselves as a “nonprofit organization that works around the world to increase women’s ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights, and to reduce abortion-related deaths and injuries.” It should be no surprise then that Ms. Bridger is a skeptic of abstinence-only education.

Later in the segment, the CNN correspondent played a clip from an interview of “young men and women [who] lobbied lawmakers to allow teachers to tell high school students about contraception. They decided to do that because of their experiences in abstinence-only classes in high school.” Costello featured one “young woman” in particular during the excerpt, named Gabriela Magallanes, who accused the teachers of her abstinence-only program of using scare tactics: “I remember sitting in my class among my peers and hearing my teachers say….If you have sex, you’re going to get a STD and die.” When the correspondent replied, “Wait! She said you’re going to get a STD and die if you have sex?” the “young woman” simply replied, “Ultimately.”

Magallanes once worked for non-profit organization called Wake Teen Medical Services where she served as a “peer educator” for the organization’s “R.E.A.L. Teen Council,” which provides “ wide variety of trainings related to youth issues such as pregnancy prevention, STD prevention…and more.” Since Wake Teen promotes oral contraceptive and condom use for teens (even advising teens to go to their facility or to the local Planned Parenthood to “get condoms for free or for a much lower price”), one would guess that their “peer educators” would also follow suit in such promotions. For her work, the local YWCA inducted Magallanes into their “Academy of Women” for being a “champion of equality, justice, and human rights.”

Near the end of her report, Costello played two more sound bites. The first came from the only conservative- Jere Royall of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, “an advocate of abstinence-only education.” Unsurprisingly, the correspondent countered this with a second clip from Bridger, who spoke about “getting people comfortable transitioning from saying, we expect you not to have sex- but if you do, here are some things you can do to protect yourself.”

Anchor John Roberts expressed his reaction after Costello’s report, zeroing-in on Magallanes’ earlier claim: “It was shocking to see that they’re trying to scare kids into abstinence.” Costello followed this with her own recommendation: “Teenagers are curious about sex…and there’s so much sex around them and- you know, they know some stuff. But they don’t know it quite correctly. So they need someone to ask, and maybe a teacher is the best person to ask.” What’s really “shocking” is CNN’s seeming faith that the teen pregnancy and STD transmission is going to be solved by throwing pills and condoms at high school students.

The full transcript of Carol Costello’s report from Thursday’s American Morning:

JOHN ROBERTS: Congress has scrapped a lot of funding for abstinence-only sex education in schools, and while some people are happy with the changes, critics worry that teachers are telling your kids too much about the facts of life.

Our Carol Costello joins us now live from Washington with the latest installment in our series, ‘Educating America.’ Good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO: Good morning, John. You know, it’s sort of like going from zero to 100 miles per hour. School districts, like some in North Carolina, have not taught kids about how to use birth control or how to control sexually-transmitted diseases- or prevent them, I should say- and now they’re trying to come up with a more comprehensive sex education class. It’s challenging.

COSTELLO (voice-over): For more than ten years, it was the law in North Carolina. State House Bill 834 required teachers to tell teenagers they were ‘expected’ to abstain from ‘sexual activity outside of marriage.’ But the law didn’t have the lasting effect on teenagers officials had hoped.

COSTELLO (on-camera): What has happened to the teenage population in North Carolina?

COLLEEN BRIDGER, GASTON COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT: They’ve gotten pregnant more often. Imagine that? Our STD rates are going up. Our pregnancy rates are going up.

COSTELLO (voice-over): According to North Carolina’s health department, from 2003 to 2007, the teen pregnant rate rose more than 12 percent. North Carolina now has the ninth highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn’t give them all of the information they might need.

COSTELLO: These young men and women lobbied lawmakers to allow teachers to tell high school students about contraception. They decided to do that because of their experiences in abstinence-only classes in high school.

GABRIELA MAGALLANES, STUDENT: I remember sitting in my class among my peers and hearing my teachers say- you know, abstinence only, wait to have sex til you get married- you know, condoms won’t work. If you have sex, you’re going to get a STD and die.

COSTELLO (on-camera): Wait! She said you’re going to get a STD and die if you have sex?

MAGALLANES: Ultimately- and when kids hear that, they shut their ears off. They just stop listening.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Jere Royall, an advocate of abstinence-only education, says the key is to get the truth out. He says if taught properly, abstinence-only is the best sex education.

JERE ROYALL, NORTH CAROLINA FAMILY POLICY COUNCIL: They need to understand that sexuality is an important part of- of life, but what they also need to understand is that- what the possible consequences are if they engage in sexual activity outside of marriage.

COSTELLO: In the end, lawmakers listened to both sides. They amended the original law to allow teachers to first instruct students about abstinence, and then about what they can do if they decide to have sex.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You know what I’d like to accomplish-

COSTELLO: It’s a challenge health officials are willing to take on.

BRIDGER: The starting point is getting people comfortable transitioning from saying, we expect you not to have sex- but if you do, here are some things you can do to protect yourself. Here are some things you can do to reduce your risks.

COSTELLO (on-camera): So the new curriculum will go into effect in the 2010 school year in North Carolina. And, by the way, the University of North Carolina did a study on how many parents want their kids to learn things about- like- like how to put a condom on, and how to take birth control pills- how to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases. Ninety-one percent of the parents said yes, tell my kids about those things. Still, at least 8 percent of parents who don’t want their kids to learn about such things in school- and that’s why abstinence will still be an important part of comprehensive sex education classes, and why students will still be allowed to opt out of sex ed if they wish. John?

ROBERTS: It was shocking to see that they’re trying to scare kids into abstinence. Is it- is it successful abstinence education- you know, this idea of confidence and empowerment, showing people that there are choices out there, that you don’t have to give in to pressures?

COSTELLO: Well, you know, it’s tough for parents to talk about sex with their kids, and it’s tougher for them to even believe that their child is thinking about having sex, especially when they’re 14, 15, and 16 years old. So that’s why these abstinence-only programs went into effect in North Carolina schools, and some school districts now- health officials say we got to- like, change the mindset here and go slowly at first, and tell kids everything they want to know because- you know, teenagers are curious about sex.

ROBERTS: Sure.

COSTELLO: And there’s so much sex around them and- you know, they know some stuff. But they don’t know it quite correctly. So they need someone to ask, and maybe a teacher is the best person to ask.

ROBERTS: All right. Carol Costello with us this morning.

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