Group Attacks Judicial Nominee as 'Radical' and 'Extreme' for Opposing Abstinence-Only Programs That Lie to Students and Promote Dangerous Stereotypes

by Dan Quinn

Concerned Women for America (CWA), a national religious-right group with an active Texas chapter, is accusing a federal judicial nominee of being a “radical” in part because of what she has written about abstinence-only sex education programs that promote gender stereotypes.

In an email to activists today, CWA President Penny Nance writes that the U.S. Senate should not confirm President Obama’s nomination of Georgetown University law professor Cornelia Pillard to serve on the U.S. Appellate Court for the D. C. Circuit. Republicans have been blocking a Senate vote on Pillard’s nomination. Nance calls Pillard “one of the most radical nominees we have ever seen to such an important court.”

Really?

Nance says that “Pillard’s disdain for women of faith is felt vividly on her views on abortion and contraception.” Apparently, that’s in part because Pillard dares to suggest that women have the right to seek an abortion and access to birth control regardless of the religious beliefs of their employers. But Nance also criticizes what Pillard wrote about the failures of abstinence-only sex education in a 2007 article titled “Our Other Reproductive Choices: Equality in Sex Education, Contraceptive Access, and Work-Family Policy.”

Nance quotes from that article in her email today:

Pillard believes that abstinence education is a radical, extreme view that is actually unconstitutional. She wrote:

“The abstinence-only approach is permeated with stereotyped messages and sex-based double standards about acceptable male and female sexual behavior and appropriate social roles. Public school teaching of gender stereotypes violates the constitutional bar against sex stereotyping and is vulnerable to equal protection challenge.”

Actually, teaching that kind of nonsense is radical and extreme, and Pillard’s description of what too many abstinence-only courses teach is accurate. A 2009 report from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, “Just Say Don’t Know: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools,” found that abstinence-only programs often promote outrageous and dangerous stereotypes based on gender. Here’s just one classroom lesson we noted in our report:

Girls, taking into consideration that guys are more  easily sexually turned on by sight, you need to think long and hard about the way you dress and the way you come on to guys…If a guy is breathing, then he’s probably turned on…How can you tell a girl is an easy target for a guy?…By the clothes she wears…A girl who shows a lot of skin and dresses seductively fits into one of three categories: 1) She’s pretty ignorant when it comes to guys, and she has no clue what she’s doing. 2) She’s teasing her boyfriend which is extremely cruel to the poor guy! 3) She’s giving her boyfriend an open invitation saying, “Here I am. Come take me.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. That and other lessons suggest that girls who are the victims of sexual aggression and violence essentially have themselves to blame. The report also shows how abstinence-only programs lie to students about the effectiveness of birth control and promote shaming and fear-based instruction. Read our full report here.

Concerned Women for America wants its activists to think opposing that kind of instruction is somehow “radical” and “extreme.” But what’s really extreme is trying to justify abstinence-only programs that lie to students and put their health and lives at risk.

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