There are so many bad actors in the saga of Maria Talks, a safe-sex-education Web site that came under fire this past spring, that it's hard to know where to begin. The 63 state legislators who demanded that Governor Deval Patrick eliminate the $100,000 in state funding the site receives? Check. The state's four Catholic bishops, led by Cardinal Seán O'Malley, who jumped on the defunding bandwagon? Check. The Boston Herald, for endangering a vital program by flogging this story above and beyond the call of journalistic duty? Check. The state's public-health commissioner, John Auerbach, who partly caved in to the pressure and ordered that the site be toned down? Check.

free speech offenders Massachusetts CItizens for Life
The coveted Muzzle, though, goes to the anti-abortion-rights group MASSACHUSETTS CITIZENS FOR LIFE (MCFL). According to the Herald, which broke the story on April 20, it was MCFL that initially "took aim at the site" and kicked off weeks of contemptible foolishness.

"The commonwealth is using taxpayer money to tell kids how to get a secret abortion, and that's wrong," MCFL vice-president Linda Thayer was quoted as saying in that first story. "This is a misuse of state funds, especially for parents who are taxpayers." Good grief.

Maria Talks, produced by the AIDS Action Committee, features an 18-year-old cartoon character who dispenses common-sense advice on sex and relationships. According to Thayer and other critics, the site trivialized abortion and made it sound easy for teenagers to get around parental-consent laws.

But as Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, wrote on her blog, "You know what's really obscene? That a few lawmakers care more about scoring political points in the culture wars than about protecting our kids from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections."

Governor Patrick, fortunately, stood firm and refused to give in. So it was disappointing that Auerbach, his public-health commissioner, recently told the Herald that Maria Talks was being reworked, saying, "We needed to pull back a little bit, and add a more cautious and medically accurate tone." Still, the site remains a valuable resource for teens with questions about sexual health and relationships.

And Maria got the ultimate revenge. According to, Maria Talks received just 624 unique visitors in February and only 2013 in March. In April, when this manufactured controversy erupted, that number rose to 14,242. Although there's no way of knowing who all those extra visitors were, surely some of them were young people who were hearing about Maria Talks for the first time. Thus Massachusetts Citizens for Life managed inadvertantly to perform a public service. Good work.

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