Current Legislative Session Reveals Trend toward Comprehensive Sex Education Policy

The 2009 state legislative session is a regular legislative term for most states, during which bills will be introduced, heard, and passed in state congresses. State legislation introduced thus far this term reflects the paradigm shift taking place in federal and state politics that shows increasing support for a comprehensive approach to sex education. Such education provides medically accurate, age-appropriate, and scientifically based information that stresses abstinence while also providing youth with information on the effectiveness of contraception methods in preventing pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the 2009 legislative session to date has seen legislation regarding human sexuality education introduced in 21 states, representing all regions of the country.[1] The large majority of the bills introduced, including bills introduced in Arizona, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon, call for standards requiring that sexuality education be medically accurate and age-appropriate.
 
This policy update highlights some of the sex education legislation introduced thus far during the 2009 term.[2]   
 
Alabama
Alabama House Bill 550, titled the “Parents Right to Know Act,” was introduced on February 17th. The bill would require the principal of any public school that receives abstinence-only-until-marriage funding or chooses to teach abstinence-only instruction, to send a notice home to parents at the beginning of the school year that explains that their child is being taught abstinence-only-until-marriage instruction, and that such instruction does not include “medically-accurate instruction on the risks and benefits, including safety and efficacy, of Food and Drug Administration approved methods” for reducing the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS, or preventing pregnancy and “instruction that provides lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students with the necessary skills for making and implementing responsible decisions about relationships and sexuality.” Such policy would allow parents to remove their child out from abstinence-only-until-marriage instruction. The bill is sponsored by Representative Patricia Todd (D-Jefferson) and has been referred to the House Committee on Education Policy.
 
Hawaii
Senate Bill 777 was introduced in the legislature on January 23, 2009. Sponsored by Senator Rosalyn Baker (District 5), the bill requires that organizations receiving state funding for “sexuality health education” provide information that is medically accurate and factual, age appropriate, and includes education on abstinence, contraception, and methods for the prevention of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, including HIV and AIDS. The bill passed in the Senate on February 23rd. Most recently the bill was sent to the House Committee on Health where it passed with an amendment. An identical bill, House Bill 330, was also introduced on January 23rd. It passed through the House committees on Health and Education with amendments and was sent to the House Committee on Finance on February 17th.
 
Indiana
Senate Bill 566, sponsored by Senator Jean Breaux (District 34), would amend the state education code by removing the requirement that accredited schools that choose to teach about human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases teach “abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school age children.” The new law would, instead, require such schools to provide “comprehensive sexual health education” that would, among other requirements, “be appropriate for use with pupils of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and pupils with disabilities;” “encourage pupils to communicate with [their] parents about human sexuality;” and “teach respect for marriage and committed relationships.” This instruction would have to be age appropriate and taught by “appropriate instructors.” The bill was introduced on January 20th and referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development.
 
North Carolina
The North Carolina “Healthy Youth Act of 2009,” Senate Bill 221, would require each Local School Administrative Unit in the state to offer a dual sex education program, meaning that schools would have to start offering abstinence-based comprehensive sexuality education along side its abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula beginning in the seventh grade. Instruction included in the comprehensive sex education program “shall be objective and based upon scientific research that is peer reviewed and accepted by professionals and credentialed experts in the field of sexual health education.” The bill would create an opt-in policy that allows parents to determine which type of instruction they want their child to receive; parents would choose whether to enroll their child in either the abstinence-only-until-marriage track or the abstinence-based, comprehensive sexuality education track. The bill was introduced on February 18th and sent to the Senate Committee on Education and Higher Education. The bill is sponsored by Senator Malcolm Graham (District 40). An identical bill, HB 88, was introduced in the House, and passed on April 20th by a vote of 64to53. The bill must pass one more House vote before being sent to the Senate.[3]
 
SIECUS continuously monitors developments in the states related to sex education. For additional information, please email mmarshall@siecus.org.
 
 


[1] “Monthly State Update: Major Developments in 2009,” Guttmacher Institute, as of 28 February 2009, accessed 20 March 2009, <http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/updates/index.html>.
[2] The synopses describe the current status of the bills as of 20 April2009.
[3] “NC House Passes Sex Education Bill That Offers Parents Choice of Programs,” Daily Women’s Health Policy Report, National Partnership for Women and Families, accessed 22 April 2009, <http://www.nationalpartnership.org/site/News2?abbr=daily2_&page=NewsArticle&id=16582&security=1201&news_iv_ctrl=-1>.

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