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Sex Ed News Round Up: Halloween Edition

Rachel Hart,
Reproductive Freedom Project
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October 31, 2007

The Portland Press Herald in Maine has a great op-ed from State Representative Sherry Huber in response to a recent decision by the Portland School Committee allowing a local middle school’s health center to dispense birth control to sexually active students.

Huber notes that thirty-four years ago, faced with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, the Maine legislature passed a bill making it possible for teens to access birth control without parental consent. She recounts the current situation in Maine:

Today, after more than 30 years of teen-friendly access to family planning, comprehensive sexuality education, and better birth control methods, Maine now has the fourth lowest teen pregnancy rate for girls under the age of 18 and the lowest rate for girls under the age of 14 in the nation.

And while Maine girls are no more sexually active than girls in other states, they continue to have the highest rate of oral contraceptive use — clearly making a healthy decision to avoid pregnancy.

Huber goes on to explain why forcing teens to talk to their parents before they can access birth control doesn’t make sense:

The good news is that three in five students do talk to their parents about their sexual health and birth control — typically because teenagers told them or their parents suggested it. But among those whose parents were unaware, 70 percent would stop coming to a clinic, and a quarter would continue to have sex but would either rely on withdrawal or not use any contraception. Only 1 percent of all teens would stop having sex.

Of course, she doesn’t believe that making family planning services available is a silver bullet when it comes to preventing teen pregnancy. Huber says students need medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education:

Comprehensive sexuality education is a vital component in this equation. The data are clear: When young people are provided full information, they make healthier decisions. Case in point: Maine’s abstinence rate among teens has significantly increased over the past decade.

Other communities are now grappling with the same issue. On Tuesday, a local taskforce in Denver, Colorado, recommended that school-based health centers begin offering condoms, birth control pills, and emergency contraception to students. Parents would need to sign a consent form before a school nurse could dispense contraception. Local health officials say that the current system of referring students to local clinics for contraceptives has not been successful.

Meanwhile, Pilgrim Park Middle School in Elmbrook, Wisconsin, is debating what 6th, 7th, and 8th graders should be taught when it comes to sex ed. Some parents raised concerns about defining oral sex to middle school students.

And The Plain Dealer reports that Ohio has joined Utah as the only two states to decide not to apply for a HIV education grant from the Centers for Disease Control. Under the program, which requires states to submit a five year plan for teen HIV prevention, Ohio could qualify for up to $1.25 million over five years. According to the article, Ohio participated in the CDC grant program up until 2000 “after some legislators were appalled by explicit language and promotion of condoms in a teacher-training program. At about the same time, the state legislature approved a law requiring that education programs stress abstinence as the only 100 percent effective protection against sexually transmitted diseases.” HIV advocates noted that the number of HIV infections have recently been on the rise in Cleveland.

In national news, last week the Senate passed the 2008 Labor-HHS-Education bill, but only after removing an amendment that would have prohibited federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs from using “medically inaccurate” information in their curricula. The bill, which is headed to conference committee to resolve funding discrepancies, contains increased funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

USA Today has an op-ed from Abigail Jones and Marissa Miley, the authors of Restless Virgins: Love, Sex, and Survival at a New England Prep School. The authors, who spent two years interviewing teens for their book, say that “[a]bstinence-only education is not the panacea for teenage sex” and call for “more comprehensive national and local sex-ed programs are needed that include teaching students about birth control, diseases and safe sex. Sexual health is not just physical but emotional, too. Kids need to learn how to develop healthy sexual relationships, whether or not they are forever.”

And finally, Ruth Marcus has a column in The Washington Post criticizing Susan Orr, President Bush’s current choice for deputy secretary for population affairs at HHS, and says that Jenna Bush — who recently spoke out against her father’s domestic abstinence-only-until-marriage policy — may be a better choice. For someone in charge of population affairs, Orr has an interesting view of family planning:

In 2001, when the Bush administration proposed lifting the requirement that health insurers of federal employees provide coverage for contraceptives, Orr cheered. “We’re quite pleased, because fertility is not a disease,” she said. “It’s not a medical necessity that you have it.”…

The year before, Orr fought a D.C. Council bill requiring all employers to cover contraception … Orr’s opposition was disturbingly vitriolic. “The mask of choice is falling off,” she said. “It’s not about choice. It’s not about health care. It’s about making everyone collaborators with the culture of death.”

That’s all for this week. Happy Halloween.