WASHINGTON. — NEW YORK City Schools Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez has proposed distribution of condoms to any public-school student who wants them.
The proposal is another white flag of surrender to the sex industry. It follows a decision by Massachusetts to begin one of the most aggressive condom-promotion campaigns of any state. The campaign will feature billboards, posters on buses and subways, and public- service announcements on television and radio.
The excuse given by those who promote condoms in schools and elsewhere is that too many young people are getting pregnant or infected with venereal diseases, and widely available condoms are the best way to combat both.
If condom campaigns worked, one would expect to see some evidence of their success. But the opposite seems to be true. According to Dinah Richard, author of ''Has Sex Education Failed Our Teen-Agers? A Research Report'' (Pneuma Press), contraceptive education has failed, while abstinence education has proved effective.
From 1971 to 1981, she writes, total federal expenditures on family planning (exclusive of state and local funding) exceeded $2 billion. During the same 10-year period, when there was a 306 percent increase in federal funding, there was a 48.3 percent increase in teen pregnancies and a 133 percent increase in abortions.
Dr. Richard's review of 33 sex-education studies found that when contraceptive education was introduced there were gains in sexual knowledge, but shifts toward more liberal sexual attitudes, which led to promiscuity.
Not everyone is ''doing it,'' as some New York and Massachusetts officials claim. Studies from 1981, 1983, 1986 and 1987 consistently show that half of 18-year-olds have never had premarital sex. And many teen-agers who have experienced intercourse return to ''secondary virginity.''
A Louis Harris poll showed that 90 percent of teens admitted having become sexually active simply because of perceived peer pressure. Eighty percent said they felt they had been drawn into it too soon.
Dr. Richard describes one poll that shows teens who have a sex-education course that discusses contraceptives experience a 50 percent higher sexual-activity rate than those who have taken a sex-education course omitting contraceptives or who have not had any formal sex education.
It is capitulation, not leadership, to hand out condoms in public schools and pretend the consequences of teen-age sex will go away. They haven't and they won't. Even if the physical consequences of teen sex could be alleviated -- the studies show they have not -- the emotional consequences would remain.
Far better to begin sex-education programs based on abstinence, where the data are much more encouraging. One pilot program at Lamar Junior High School in Lamar, Missouri, was taught to about 450 students between 1987 and 1989. There were no pregnancies. A school nurse, Nancy Hughes, attributes the success of the program to the values it teaches. Abstinence programs were used in 14 schools in six Midwestern states, with 1,841 students participating. Before taking the course, 36 percent of the students said sexual intercourse among teens is acceptable, provided no pregnancy results. Only 18 percent felt that way after the course, and 65.5 percent disagreed.
John Walsh, a spokesman for the Boston archdiocese, was right when he said, ''Our fear is that the state is sending the wrong message, 'Do whatever you want, but do it safely.' The state should be waging a campaign to encourage abstinence outside monogamous marital relationships, a campaign that says hedonism and promiscuity are not the way to go.''
The facts back him up. Condoms for children don't work. Abstinence programs do. Parents must make sure politicians get the message.