What does the Christian Right really hope to achieve with abstinence-only education? If their goal is to reduce teen pregnancies, sexually-transmitted diseases, and sexual activity, then they will give up on the programs if they prove ineffective. Right? Of course. And the fact that they have no interest in ever doing so means that reducing pregnancy, disease, and activity aren't really their goals.
Their ideology is religious. Their motivation is religious. Their goal is religious. To be specific, their goals are to save souls and to promote Christianity. When abstinence-only education works, in their minds it works because their religion is embraced because that's ultimately what has power. When abstinence-only education fails, it's because their religion (and religious values) have been rejected - and in those cases people deserve whatever harm they experience.
Ed Brayton posted a couple of years ago a comment from the "Access Research Network" message boards on whether abstinence-only education is to be preferred because it works or because it is ideologically correct:
Both. But even if it only reflected my ideology, and didn't seem to "work" in preventing sexual activity and sexual disease, that would only matter if preventing sexual disease (and unwanted pregnancy, etc.) were the only or most important dangers inherent in pre-marital and/or promiscuous sex. If this life is all there is, then that would be the case. If, on the other hand, it is not, then the souls of the individuals are more important than physical well-being (which is not to say that physical well-being is not important), and one should not teach them ways to destroy or taint their souls in "safety".
There will always be those who disregard wise counsel - does that mean we should abandon that wise counsel, and resort to foolishness which meets the "market demand"? What's the goal in sex education, anyway? Offer the children hope that they can go ahead and have sex without any consequences? Sort of like, "We know a lot of you are going to have sex anyway, so here's a way to do it without having any negative physical consequences. Here, have a condom, and if you're going to be foolish, at least be careful and have fun. It's on us."
So, even if abstinence-only education didn't work and didn't achieve the stated goals of preventing sexual activity or lowering rates of sexually-transmitted diseases, that wouldn't really matter. Why? Because they aren't the primary goals of abstinence-only education, despite what we keep hearing from supporters. In reality, the primary goal is to protect the souls of the teens by keeping them from falling into sin.
Isn't this a self-defeating position, though? Presumably the threats to the souls of the teens lies in pre-marital sexual activity. In order to protect them from this sin, we should prevent them from engaging in such activity. If abstinence-only education fails to prevent this, then it doesn't actually protect their souls -- right? Maybe they hope that these teens will be easier targets for evangelization after they have experienced the "wages of sin"?
Even if we ignore that, however, the fact that these people are trying to use the government to save people's souls regardless of whether that means putting them physically at risk is very, very disturbing. It's not surprising, I'm sorry to say, but it's still very disturbing. Within the context of their religious beliefs, the goal of protecting others' souls is legitimate. However, the goal cannot be legitimately pursued with the support and assistance of the government.