Dr. Stuart Spitzer, a state representative, wants Texans to abstain from sex out of wedlock, but statistics show teens in his district have their cars a-rockin’ on Saturday nights—and probably some other nights, too.
“My goal is for everyone to be abstinent until they are married,” Spitzer told the House during a state budget debate last night.
If that’s Spitzer’s goal, in his district, he’s a long way from it.
Spitzer is a general surgeon in Kaufman and a deacon of the First Baptist Church. On election night last year, Spitzer declared, “God in his infinite wisdom has chosen to lead us here to this night of victory.” Spitzer is not the first political figure in history to believe divine intervention had a hand in his triumph, and I always try to be respectful of other people’s faith. But faith should serve as a political figure’s guiding light, not the dogma to which they try to bend public policy. Confusing faith with policy is exactly what Dr. Spitzer did in the House budget debate as he convinced members to steer $3 million away from AIDS prevention and to abstinence education.
Spitzer’s arguments descended into farce as he promoted abstinence education as a means of AIDS and STD prevention. Spitzer declared: “I’ve only had sex with one woman in my life, and that’s my wife.” When Democrats pressed the Republican legislator about whether an STD can be contracted some way other than sex, Spitzer said, “You can, but it’s awful hard through your clothes.”
Perhaps Dr. Spitzer needs to have a consultation with Indiana Governor Mike Pence. The governor has been buried in national news for the past week because he signed a religious freedom law that many people believe allows discrimination against gays and lesbians. What got lost in that coverage is at the same time, Pence authorized an emergency needle exchange program because of a rapid increase in the number of AIDS cases occurring in Austin, Indiana, due to intravenous drug use. Austin, Indiana, is a rural area, not terribly unlike the counties Dr. Spitzer represents, Kaufman and Henderson.
As an indicator of whether abstinence education is working, there probably is no better than teen pregnancy. The Kaufman and Athens school districts provide “human sexuality” instruction to students and follow the state law requiring that “abstinence from sexual activity” is the “preferred choice of behavior in relationship to all sexual activity for unmarried persons of school age.” In addition to the school district training, Athens also has a program called the Henderson County HELP Center using the Heritage Keepers abstinence curriculum. Spitzer’s home county of Kaufman has no such community program, according to OurTown4Teens.org of the Texas Department of State Health Services.
If abstinence education works, why does Dr. Spitzer’s district have some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state? The rate is determined by one pregnancy for each 1,000 teenagers. Teen pregnancy is costing Kaufman County $3.29 million a year and Henderson County, $2.99 million. Here are some of the teen pregnancy rates in Zip Codes in Dr. Spitzer’s district:
NOTE: One large Zip Code around Athens had no date available.
Keep in mind as you look at these statistics from Spitzer’s district that the state teen pregnancy rate is just below 47 pregnancies for each 1,000 teens – in other words, the teen pregnancy rate exceeds the state rate in 11 out of 16 Zip Codes in Dr. Spitzer’s district despite abstinence education in the schools. Teen pregnancy is one of the leading causes of female students dropping out of high school.
And while teen pregnancy is a problem, so is the AIDS-causing HIV. According to the Department of State Health Services, there are 76,000 known HIV cases in Texas. Another 13,000 people are believed to have HIV but are unaware and are in danger of spreading the disease either through sex or the sharing of drug needles. The department states that one out of every 345 Texans is living with HIV. Though small, the number of HIV infections in Spitzer’s district grew from nine in 2013 to 14 in 2014.
There’s an old saying that charity begins at home. There’s nothing wrong with abstinence education. There’s also nothing wrong with HIV/AIDS prevention. This vote just looked like it was driven more by religious dogma than public health concerns. Perhaps, if Dr. Spitzer wants to promote abstinence, he should begin in his district where teen pregnancy is high and the number of HIV cases is increasing.