As many states open their 2006 legislative sessions, SIECUS is tracking a high volume of bills regarding sexuality education and abstinence-only-until-marriage programs being introduced across the country. If enacted, these bills could have a range of impacts on what youth learn in classrooms as exemplified by the legislation from Illinois and South Dakota highlighted below.
In Illinois, the Age-appropriate Sex Education Grant Program Act (Senate Bill 2267) would fund sexuality education throughout the state. This bill has already been voted out of the Senate committee on Health and Human Services by a vote of seven to two.
The bill states, “the General Assembly finds and declares that Illinois' teen birth rate, numbering over 18,000 per year, ranks among the highest in the nation.” In order to rectify this, the bill creates a new program under which the Illinois Department of Human Services would grant funds to public school districts, local health departments, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and any partnership of the aforementioned entities. These grants would be used for medically accurate, age-appropriate education that stresses abstinence, but also includes information regarding contraceptives and barrier methods.
Commenting on the need for such legislation, Jonathan Stacks, Campaign Manager for the Illinois Campaign for Responsible Sex Education stated, “I've been traveling around the state for the past year and have seen the frustration in parents' faces when they learn that we have such a patchwork of programs, lack of funding, and no standards for sex education in Illinois. Parents are looking for help to make sure their children have the accurate information they need to stay safe.”
The sponsor of this legislation, Senator Carol Ronen (D-Chicago), added, “Senate Bill 2267 would provide schools and communities with the tools they need to help young people prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. We all want our young people to wait to have sex, and we should encourage them to do so. But as adults—as educators, as lawmakers—it is not responsible to withhold the information they need to help them make sound decisions and to keep themselves healthy and safe.”
In South Dakota , a very different type of legislation would decimate existing sexuality education programs and censor teachers throughout the state. House Bill 1217, which has already passed out of the House and is currently in the Senate, would place extreme limitations on what could be taught regarding sexuality education in South Dakota.
Currently, South Dakota law does not require schools to teach sexuality education. Instead, the decision is left up to local school boards. However, schools are required to teach “character development instruction.” The bill would expand the definition of abstinence-only-until-marriage instruction that is currently a part of “character development instruction.”
The bill states, “the instruction of sexual abstinence may not include models of instruction based on risk reduction encouraging, promoting, and providing instruction in the use of contraceptive drugs, devices, or methods.” It continues that such instruction must “inform students that engaging in unlawful sexual activity may be a crime punishable by law.”
Representative Edward McLaughlin (R-Rapid City) opposed the bill for taking control away from local school districts, “the local boards reflect the culture and the mores of the community.”1 Representative Bill Thompson (D-Sioux Falls) questioned the place of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in schools at all, “the purpose of education is not to indoctrinate. It is to give students knowledge and skills so that they can make the informed, wise, personal decisions that are an important part of their lives.”2
Rebecca Fox, assistant director for public policy at SIECUS stated, “Bills in Illinois and South Dakota reflect the opposite ends of legislation regarding sexuality education. If both bills pass, we will see dramatic impact; Illinois' youth will be empowered to make healthy choices and South Dakota's youth will have a dangerous lack of information.”
- Jenny Michael, “House passes abstinence bill,” Aberdeen News 07 February 2006, accessed online on 13 February 2006 at <http://www.aberdeennews.com/mld/aberdeennews/news/13815017.htm>.