April 28, 2011
On Tuesday, state Department of Public Health officials said they are receptive to discussing changes to a teen sexual health website that some legislators criticize as graphic and crude. A group of state lawmakers has sent Gov. Deval Patrick a letter asking that state funding be cut for www.mariatalks.com. The independent AIDS Action Committee maintains the site with a $100,000 annual DPH grant.
The website features "Maria" and other invented teen and adult characters who discuss subjects including sex, STDs, pregnancy, birth control, and abortion. Critics object to the site's use of slang terms, its descriptions of sex acts, and the information it provides on abortion.
"Gov. Patrick, take down this website," Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) said at a news conference attended by about 20 lawmakers from both parties. "This website describes abortion in an extremely insensitive manner, downplays the medical and psychological damages, and advises teenage girls on how to circumvent parental notification requirements," he said.
"The language that is used on this site is disgusting," said Rep. Elizabeth Poirier (R-North Attleborough).
Defending the website, Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston) said its information is useful, and it "speaks the language that teenagers speak."
A DPH statement said the agency is willing to meet with critics in the coming days and improve the site's content, if needed. However, the website's goal is to make accurate health information publicly available, and it remains "an important tool to help us do that," DPH said.
The site's supporters note that it includes a long section on abstinence, as well as information about adoption as an alternative to abortion.