Last month, President Barack Obama’s 2017 budget included a noteworthy cut: Federal funding for abstinence-only based sexual education. Since the early 1980s, under the Reagan Administration, over one and a half billion dollars has been funneled into abstinence-before-marriage sex ed, despite a body of evidence showing its ineffectiveness.
Obama’s proposed budget must pass congressional approval. They have until Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year, to debate this and other proposed line items.
A 2007 federal report found that abstinence-only sex ed had “no impacts on rates of sexual abstinence,” and the following year a University of Washington study found that teenagers who received comprehensive sex ed were 60 percent less likely to get pregnant than those who received abstinence-only sex ed.
That same study found that children who were white and from higher income families were more likely to receive comprehensive sex ed, whereas black students from low income families were more likely to receive no sex education. Those who received abstinence-only were more likely to be from low to moderate income families.
Sexual education standards vary from state to state.
North Carolina moving back to abstinence-only sex ed?
In September of last year a bill, Senate Bill 279, was passed in North Carolina, weakening progress that had been made years earlier. The Healthy Youth Act, a bill passed in 2009, reversed a policy requiring schools to teach abstinence-only. It, instead, required schools to teach comprehensive sex education, including information about condoms and other forms of contraception, as well as abstinence.
Senate Bill 279 also allows those the state would deem “experts” to sign off on curriculum. This would open up the pool of individuals educating students on sex and sexual health.
Elizabeth Finley, a spokeswoman for SHIFT NC, a non-profit working to reduce teen pregnancy and the spread of STIs, told North Carolina Health News that she believes the intention is to bring abstinence-only education back into classrooms.
“Knowing the history of sex education in North Carolina, there’s absolutely a hidden, or not so hidden, agenda, especially when you listen to some of the things said in committee,” said Finley.
“I think one of the things that’s important for people to know is that before the Healthy Youth Act existed, lots of schools used outside speakers who, for example, compared girls who were sexually active to chewed-up candy,” she added.
The bill could have been even worse, as late additions to the legislation would have prohibited cities and counties from passing local ordinances for cases of housing and public accommodations.
Equality NC, which worked to stop this addition attacking local protections, issued a press release celebrating the victory.
“Equality NC is excited that, although SB279 passed, it will not strip the rights of North Carolina’s municipal governments. Last night, legislators made a last ditch effort to attack the LGBT community by adding language to the Healthy Youth Act that would greatly impact gay and transgender North Carolinians.”
South Carolina sex ed anti-gay?
South Carolina provides comprehensive sex education to students, as mandated by The Comprehensive Health Education Act, passed in 1988.
That is the good news. The bad news is that the law includes the following language:
“The program of instruction provided for in this section may not include a discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships including, but not limited to, homosexual relationships except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases.”
Attorneys for the SC Equality Litigation Post-DOMA Task Force have discussed a possible constitutional challenge to the law, reported The Post and Courier back in August.
“What we primarily have here is a First Amendment issue,” said task force member Derek Black, a constitutional and education law professor at the University of South Carolina. “It seems to me the number one potential problem here is the state is trying to prohibit people from talking about stuff it’s not comfortable with.”
There is currently proposed legislation (HB 3447/SB 574) which would amend existing laws related to comprehensive health education in schools to include that information is medically accurate and also requires school districts to publish on its website the title and author of health education materials used.