WASHINGTON (AP) – States can use their U.S. grants for abstinence education to reach out to people in their 20s rather than just focusing on teenagers, new federal guidance says.

The guidelines for this year’s $50 million program, known as Title V, include new wording about the populations that are the focus of the abstinence education.

The age range cited is 12 through 29 years old.

Wade Horn, assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, said Congress has stipulated that the money should be targeted to those most likely to bear children out-of-wedlock. He said his agency is not trying to expand who should be the target of abstinence education. It’s merely trying to clarify.

“All we did in our announcement was say if you want to target this age group it’s permissive. It’s not a requirement,” Horn said.

Although prior information on the grant program focused on teens, one section of a grant announcement said states should discuss the educational needs of people ages 20-24 and older.

One advocacy group says using abstinence education for twentysomethings won’t work. That’s because more than 90 percent have already had sexual intercourse, said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, an organization that seeks to help young people make responsible decisions about their sexual health.

“To be preaching at these adults a message of abstinence-only is absurd because it simply won’t work,” he said.

The federal government funds three different abstinence education programs. The largest, the Community-Based Abstinence Education program, will continue focusing on adolescents. The program is also administered by Horn’s agency.

The grant program affected by the new guidelines distributes funds to states based on a formula weighted to favor those with more low-income children. For every $4 received from the federal government, the states must match it with $3 of their own.

The new federal guidelines note that the highest rates of out-of-wedlock births occur among women in their 20s, not among teens. In 2003, there were 549,353 births to unmarried women ages 20 to 24; 287,205 births for unmarried women ages 25-29; and 337,201 births to unmarried women ages 15-19.

Horn stressed that he wasn’t trying to expand the reach of the program, just trying to clear up confusion over how the money can be spent.

“They would like to prohibit any information from going to 19-29-year-olds about the value of abstinence,” Horn said of the Advocates for Youth. “Why they would want to prohibit that information is beyond me.”

But Wagoner said his organization was just trying to restore common sense to public health policy.

“If the goal is to reduce unintended pregnancies, there is something called birth control,” Wagoner said. “And the government should be promoting it.”

AP-ES-10-30-06 1804EST

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