In a place as small as Delta, a western Colorado coal-mining town of 7,000, it wasn't hard for Keith Lucy to notice the startling number of teen pregnancies.
By 1995, Lucy had seen enough. Resolved to do something, he organized a coalition of city and health officials, educators, and ministers to establish Abstinence Awareness Week — which, conveniently, came the week before the high school prom.
Their first move: Above the town's busiest street, a yellow banner touting "Save Sex" went up — and so did the eyebrows.
"Initially, I think it had a bit of a shock effect," Lucy told CNSNews.com in mid-June. "You don't normally see that across Main Street."
But then, Delta was hardly typical by Colorado standards. In the town and the rest of Delta County, nearly one in ten babies belonged to teen moms — a number double the state average.
So the locals — from school nurses to business owners to pastors — began preaching abstinence. At school, students watched slide shows depicting sexually transmitted diseases and learned about the dangers of date rape.
At church, they heard prayerful pleas on their behalf and signed cards pledging to avoid sex.
"We want them to have another option out there other than the MTV culture," Lucy said.
Six years later, the results are staggering: The number of teen mothers has been cut in half.
While abstinence proponents herald Delta's success, some educators and special-interest groups aren't convinced. An abstinence-only message is outdated, unrealistic, and woefully religious, they say.
In a joint statement released in June, thirty groups — among them, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and abortion-rights lobbyists — denounced the federal government's support of abstinence-until-marriage education, saying it censors other sexual options and breaches the church-and-state wall by promoting a traditionally religious stance.
"Parents should be aware their children are being indoctrinated by views they may not share," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
"Religious groups in America have different views on questions of human sexuality and reproduction," he said. "For the government to fund only the perspective of one narrow segment of the religious community violates the spirit of church-state separation."
Critics condemned the "censorship of sexuality education" that keeps students from learning about condoms and other contraceptives, as well as alternative sexual practices such as masturbation and homosexuality.
Abstinence allies, however, are bewildered by what they see as a double standard.
"It's amazing to me that people like Planned Parenthood are upset about anybody getting money, when in fact they've received millions of dollars to push their own policies and have been doing so for years," said Patrick Scully, spokesman for the Catholic League.
Furthermore, Scully wonders if the latest attack on abstinence-only education has more to do with money than morals, since some of the coalition's groups stay in business with abortions.
"Groups like Planned Parenthood obviously have a financial interest," he said. "[Abortion's] their bread and butter."
Lucy can't understand such consternation, such wrangling over an issue that seems so simple to him. Sure, Lucy admits, Delta's abstinence campaign isn't foolproof. Some kids skip the assemblies, as they're free to do. Others spurn their signed promises not to have sex. Teen pregnancies haven't vanished.
But Lucy has heard enough thank-yous and seen enough success stories to wonder: If abstinence works, why fight a good thing?
"Our society is sex-saturated," he said. "Something has got to be done about this to change the course of the country."
Seth Lewis is a correspondent with CNSNews.com. Used by permission.