The school year’s begun and debates over sex education have already spilled into school board meetings across the country. In Arizona, officials in the Tempe Union High School district are attempting to insert dogmatic views into a sex education course to be launched this fall.
The Arizona Republic reports that Moses Sanchez, the school board’s vice president, recently challenged a portion of the proposed curriculum that discusses various birth control methods. Specifically, Sanchez wanted to know if the intrauterine device (IUD) should be reclassified – as an abortion method. Other board members then chimed in to ask that the curriculum note that people have different beliefs about contraception and the beginning of human life, and if the curriculum should promote adoption as preferable to abortion.
Medical science is, of course, very clear: IUDs do not cause abortions. Neither does the birth control pill, or the implant or any other contraceptive method (including Plan B). The decision to choose adoption over abortion is often decided more by a person’s moral philosophy than medical science, but it’s worth noting here that doctors consider abortion to be a safe procedure, and that many abstinence-only curriculums repeat debunked myths about post-abortion syndrome and links to breast cancer and infertility.
The proposed class would be available in addition to an abstinence-only program already offered by the district. “Choosing The Best” does indeed promote adoption over abortion and asserts that abortion is linked to medical complications, symptoms of “post-abortion syndrome” and infertility. The program also teaches students that sexual activity outside legal marriage inevitably has negative consequences, and a class developed for juniors and seniors in high school purportedly guides them to choosing their “soulmate.”
But the curriculum is a relatively recent addition to the district’s schools. Last year, the district invited a qualified sex educator from Planned Parenthood to provide instruction. But according to the Republic, parents objected, citing concerns that the class wouldn’t teach morality. “Choosing The Best” is a compromise, and parents can still opt their students out of the class.
Use of “Choosing The Best” also isn’t limited to the Tempe Union High School district. Quite a number of Arizona schools rely on the curriculum, including the Chandler Unified School District. In Chandler, classes are taught by external instructors from Northstar Youth Partnership, which identifies itself as a program of Catholic Charities.
No bias there, I’m sure.
Programs like “Choosing The Best” and, potentially, the curriculum developed by Tempe Union officials, are based on dogma, not sound medical advice. And abstinence-only programs like these are becoming a global problem, thanks in part to the diligent efforts of the Religious Right.
Writing in The Washington Post, New York University’s Jordan Zimmerman noted that development policy focused on reproductive health is frequently sabotaged by religious conservatives, with the U.S.-based World Congress of Families playing a major role. The campaign against medically accurate sexual education has united extremists from various doctrinal perspectives.
“On issues of sex and reproduction, it’s not East vs. West anymore. It’s liberals vs. conservatives, each of which often have more in common with their ideological soulmates in other parts of the world than they do with people next door,” Zimmerman argued.
And that spells trouble for students. The truth is that teenagers flourish when they receive accurate information about sexual activity. California expanded its sex ed programs and required them to be comprehensive and medically accurate. The result? By 2011, teen birth rates had dropped by almost 60 percent. During roughly the same time period, Arizona’s teen pregnancy rate dropped by 38 percent. Nationally, the teen birth rate is consistently highest in states that use abstinence-only sex ed.
It’s obvious that medically accurate sex education works. Students deserve to get real medical information, not dogma, and it’s time for school districts to make sure they get it.