Adolescent Family Life Act

In 1981, Congress enacted the Adolescent Family Life Demonstration Grants Act (AFLA) in response to the severe social and economic consequences that often follow pregnancy and childbirth among unmarried adolescents. The enactment of AFLA was also prompted by Congress’s insight that the federal government has a responsibility to help states develop adequate approaches to the serious and increasing problems of adolescent premarital sexual relations and pregnancy.

Among the stated purposes of the AFLA is to find effective means, within the context of the family, of reaching adolescents before they become sexually active in order to promote self-discipline and other prudent approaches to the problem of adolescent premarital sexual relations and to promote adoption as an alternative to abortion. The act further indicates that since the problems of adolescent premarital sexual relations, pregnancy, and parenthood are multiple and complex, such problems are best approached through a variety of integrated and essential services provided to adolescents and their families by other family members, religious and charitable organizations, voluntary organizations, and other groups in the private sector. Furthermore, despite the fact that teenage females had, at the time, a fundamental right to an abortion, grants were to be made only to programs that did not provide abortions, abortion referrals, or abortion counseling.

The only statutory restrictions on the use of AFLA funds are that none of the AFLA grants may be used for projects that provide abortion counseling, and the grants may be made only to projects or programs that do not promote, advocate, or encourage abortion. Furthermore, AFLA funds cannot be used to provide family planning services if such services are available elsewhere in the community.

The grants endorsed by AFLA are given to organizations providing two basic kinds of services: care services and prevention services. Care services, or necessary services for the provision of care to pregnant adolescent parents and adolescent parents, include pregnancy testing; maternity counseling; adoption counseling and referral services; primary and preventive health services, including prenatal and postnatal care; nutrition information and counseling; referral to appropriate pediatric care; referral to maternity home services and mental health services; childcare sufficient to enable the adolescent parent to continue his or her education; consumer education and homemaking; and transportation. Preventive services, or necessary services to prevent adolescent sexual relations, include referral for screening and treatment of venereal disease and educational services relating to family life and problems associated with adolescent premarital sexual relations, including information on adoption, education on the responsibilities of sexuality and parenting, and assistance to parents, schools, youth agencies, and adolescents and preadolescents concerning self-discipline in human sexuality.

The seminal case dealing with AFLA is Bowen v. Kendrick, 108 S. Ct. 2562 (1988). In 1983, this lawsuit against the Secretary was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by appellees, a group of federal taxpayers, clergymen, and the American Jewish Congress. Seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, appellees challenged the constitutionality of the AFLA on the grounds that, on its face and as applied, the statute violated the religious clauses of the First Amendment. Considering the federal statute on its face and as applied, the District Court ruled that the statute violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment insofar as it provided for the involvement of religious organizations in the federally funded program.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the AFLA. The Court found that although the AFLA provided for grants to religious and other institutions, it did not have the primary effect of advancing religion. Moreover, the Court found that the AFLA would not lead to excessive government entanglement with religion.

After protracted litigation, the parties reached a settlement agreement on January 19, 1993, which established that AFLA-funded sexuality education may not include religious references, may not be offered in a site used for religious worship services, or offered in sites with religious iconography. Moreover, the agreement established that information disbursed by the AFLA-funded programs must be medically accurate.

The effect of the AFLA on civil rights in American has the potential to restrict or hinder an adolescent’s ability to make an informed choice regarding her right to have an abortion. By the language of the act, institutions that receive grants are encouraged to provide information about adoption and implicitly discouraged from providing information dealing with any aspect of the adolescent’s right to an abortion. This could particularly affect segments of the population that do not have the requisite financial resources to take their pregnant adolescents to private institutions, but rather must rely on those that receive AFLA grants.

MARIANGELA VALLE–PETERS

References and Further Reading

  • Jones, Julie, Money, Sex, and the Religious Right: A Constitutional Analysis of the Federally Funded Abstinence- Only-Until-Marriage Sexuality Education, Creighton Law Review 35(2002): 1075. 
  • Petrich, Alexandra, Bowen v. Kendrick. Retreat from Prophylaxis in Church and State Relationships, Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly 16 (1989): 513. 

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • 42 U.S.C. §300z(a)(5) 
  • 42 U.S.C. §300z-1(a)(7) 
  • 42 U.S.C. §300z-1(a)(4) 
  • 42 U.S.C. §300z-1(a)(8) 
  • 42 U.S.C. §300z-1(b)(1) 
  • 42 U.S.C. §300z(b)(2) 
  • 42 U.S.C. §300z(a)(8)(A) 
  • 42 U.S.C. §300z(a)(8)(B) 
  • 42 U.S.C. §300z(10)(a) 
  • 42 U.S.C. §300z-3(b)(1) 
  • S. Rep. No. 161, 97th Cong., 1st Sess. 20 (1981) 
  • S. Rep. No. 161, 97th Cong., 1st Sess. 4 (1981) 

See also Abortion; Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U.S. 589 (1988)

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