Sex ed bill demands abstinence emphasis

Planned Parenthood would be barred from teaching in schools.
Monday, June 11, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:07 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A bill awaiting Gov. Matt Blunt’s signature requires greater emphasis on abstinence in Missouri’s sex education curriculum and prohibits certain organizations from teaching sex education in schools.

The bill requires schools to “present abstinence from sexual activity as the preferred choice of behavior in relation to all sexual activity for unmarried pupils.”

The bill also prohibits schools from inviting organizations that provide abortion services, such as Planned Parenthood, to teach any part of the sex education curriculum.

State Rep. Therese Sander, R-Moberly, who sponsored the bill, said that Planned Parenthood teaches sexuality without any context and only gives “lip service” to abstinence.

“The Planned Parenthood education is the how-to, the plumbing stuff, the here’s how you do it,” she said. “We’ve given the school boards the option to choose abstinence education.”

Traci Gleason, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the bill could put students at risk by limiting their access to information on birth control and sexually transmitted diseases.

She said Planned Parenthood provides a comprehensive program and gives people information to make healthy decisions.

“We stress abstinence, but we know that we live in a society where every day, teenagers are bombarded with conflicting messages about sexuality,” Gleason said. “We talk about abstinence and making decisions appropriate for the individual, and we give the facts.

“We think school districts should have the option to bring organizations like ourselves in to talk about these issues.”

Sander said abstinence education reflects the moral values of many people in Missouri. She said sex education should include some information about contraception but abstinence should be the ultimate goal, a goal she said is attainable.

“Teenagers don’t achieve that goal because we don’t expect it of them,” Sander said. “There needs to be a proper education. It doesn’t mean don’t do sex at all; it means enjoy sex within the context of marriage.”

A study published in April found that teenagers who received abstinence-only education were just as likely to have sex and no more likely to use condoms as teens who didn’t receive abstinence-only education.

The study was authorized by Congress and conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

Sander called the study inconclusive and said other research has shown that abstinence education does work. However, Sander could not cite specific studies.

Gleason said the Mathematica study, which followed 2,000 children from elementary or middle school into high school, was comprehensive and fair.

“There was no agenda,” Gleason said.

Karla DeSpain, president of the Columbia Board of Education, said Columbia will conform to what the legislature deems necessary. But she said she would hate to see the sex education curriculum limited.

“One approach won’t work for every kid,” DeSpain said. “It’s especially true in this instance. Kids will want to experiment. I wouldn’t endorse it, but it’s going to happen. No matter how hard you try, you won’t convince every teen to be abstinent, and they should know about the alternatives.”

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