Sex education bill removes birth-control ban

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 10 2009 12:15 p.m. MST

Teachers shouldn't be afraid to teach kids about birth control, says Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake.

Hemingway released HB189 Monday, which would amend Utah law to emphasize educators be allowed to instruct students on birth control options "without fear of reprimand," he said.

Current State Office of Education rule, in accordance with Utah law, says educators may instruct on contraception options with prior parental consent.

The law also states teachers are not to "advocate or encourage the use of contraceptive methods or devices." Hemingway's bill removes that prohibitive language.

Hemingway's bill states teachers are still to instruct abstinence as the only 100 percent way to not get pregnant or get a sexually transmitted disease. But "there are things you can use if you are going to be sexually active," he said.

Contraception options would include the "use of condoms," Hemingway said.

The lawmaker said he is ready for opposition from conservative groups.

"I am expecting controversy," Hemingway said. "It is very difficult to do something like this but if nobody tries, nothing will ever get done."

The Utah Eagle Forum is already speaking out on the bill.

"It's a bad bill. It's a really bad bill," said Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum.

"Utah has always had the best laws dealing with abstinence education and that is where we want to keep it," Ruzicka said.

Hemingway's bill "is something we have never done in Utah and something I will always work against," she said "I think Utah parents, as well as the Utah legislators, will stick with what we've got. It's the best and it works."

Leaders of the State PTA and the Utah Eagle Forum are studying the bill and preparing to issue statements.

The political arm of Planned Parenthood of Utah, the Action Council, supports the bill.

"Research shows the majority of Utah's high school students become sexually active before graduation, but they aren't making healthy and responsible decisions," said Action Council Executive Director Melissa Bird. "This is why we're seeing an increase in sexually transmitted diseases in young people and an increase in teenage pregnancies."

Bird emphasizes the bill doesn't do away with the parental permission slip or the parents' right for their child to "opt out" of all or some of the sex-ed program.

Hemingway said he just wants to help educate teens. He met a few days ago with a group of students from local high schools and universities to discuss the issue of sex education.

"They think this is necessary," he said. "Most of them say they didn't have any real sex education in high school."

Current State Office of Education policy on human sexuality instruction:

The public schools will teach sexual abstinence before marriage and fidelity after marriage.

There will be prior parental consent before teaching any aspect of contraception and/or condoms.

Students will learn about communicable diseases, including those transmitted sexually, and HIV/AIDS.

Program materials and guest speakers supporting instruction on these topics are to be reviewed and approved by the local district review committee.

The following are not approved by the State Board of Education for instruction and may not be taught:

The intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation or erotic behavior;

The advocacy of homosexuality;

The advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices;

The advocacy of sexual activity outside of marriage.

Teachers may respond to spontaneous student questions for the purposes of providing accurate data or correcting inaccurate or misleading information or comments made by students in class regarding human sexuality.

E-mail: astewart@desnews.com

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