On April 1, one hundred forty-five organizations asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to fix or remove 4parents.gov due to numerous concerns, including the website's reliance on fear, biased and inaccurate information, and failure to address the needs of many youth. HHS recently unveiled 4parents.gov and claimed the site was aimed at helping parents talk to their children about sex and relationships. Unfortunately, the clear focus of the website is on abstinence-until-marriage. Organizations from across the country, including public health, education, HIV/AIDS, and reproductive rights groups, signed on in support of a request that HHS review and ultimately improve this flawed resource.
One major concern is that the website does not address the needs of youth who are sexually active, those who have been or are being sexually abused, and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ). As an illustration, 4parents.gov lists only one resource for parents of sexually abused youth, and this resource does not focus specifically on sexual abuse, but rather on all forms of child abuse. Similarly, the website lacks suitable information for parents of LGBTQ youth because of its use of outdated and alienating language and ideas. For example, it repeatedly uses the terms "alternative lifestyle" and "homosexual." This language assumes that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) is a choice and reduces LGB people to the mere equivalent of their sexual activity. The website completely fails to include any information about transgender youth. In addition, rather than providing unbiased resources for parents of LGBTQ youth, the website recommends finding a therapist.
The website also dictates values to parents rather than helping them to incorporate their own beliefs into discussions regarding sex and sexuality. In one instance, while discussing what they can do if their child has become sexually active, parents are told how to convince their teens to stop having sex by telling their child that he/she is "worth it." No resources or suggestions are provided for parents whose teen remains sexually active, implying that these youth are not "worth it."
4parents.gov is also written with a clear anti-choice bias. For example, the website states that "abortion complications" are one of the major reasons for infertility. In reality, less than 1 percent of women who undergo an abortion experience any major complications. Further, the website omits the more likely causes of infertility, such as blocked fallopian tubes. 4parents.gov also includes a radical change in the definition of pregnancy. The medically accepted definition, which HHS has previously used, states that pregnancy begins at implantation. 4parents.gov claims that pregnancy begins much earlier, at fertilization.
The organizations that contacted HHS also expressed concern that 4parents.gov appears to have been in made in consultation with only one nongovernmental organization, the National Physicians Center for Family Resources (NPC). The NPC is a far-right group that has strong ties to right-wing religious organizations, like the California Family Council, Alabama Family Alliance, and Focus on the Family. The NPC also maintains numerous positions not supported by the public health or medical community, such as asserting a connection between abortion and increased risk of breast cancer that has repeatedly been proven false and saying that teaching young people about contraception is a "prescription for continued disaster."
In responding to press inquiries regarding the website and letter, an HHS spokesman said, "they've always opposed us on the issue of abstinence. That's fine. One thing we do know about abstinence is that if you practice it, you will not have an unintended pregnancy or risk catching a sexually transmitted disease."1 The spokesman did not address the organizations' numerous other questions nor has a formal response from HHS been received.
According to William A. Smith, vice-president of public policy at SIECUS, "4parents.gov is just the latest example of how the Bush Administration and HHS continue to ignore the needs of our young people. By leaving out necessary information about the needs of sexually active, LGBTQ, and sexually abused youth, they have extended their pattern of misinformation from the youth in America 's classrooms to their parents in homes across the country."
To view 4parents.gov, please see www.4parents.gov
View the letter from 145 organizations.
To express your concerns regarding 4parents.gov, please see http://www.familiesaretalking.org/hhs_letter.htm
1 K. Freking, "Government abstinence web site draws ire," Las Vegas Sun, 01 April 2005.