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Abortion ban highlights abstinence-only sex education in Indiana

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As Indiana pushes for an abortion ban, a small group of Democratic lawmakers and supporters want to expand the state’s sex education curriculum to reduce unplanned, unwanted pregnancies.

But a narrow window during a special session in 2022 to expand the state’s limited sexual health standards beyond abstinence-only guidance has all but closed. and removed other language that this week will improve access to family planning.

“If we were to ban abortion, the first thing we would have to do is to do what we want,” said Christine Adams, president and CEO of the Indiana Health Council, which provides family planning services in Indianapolis. There is no stopping pregnancy.

Indiana does not require public schools to teach sex education, except for classes on HIV and AIDS. The only requirement for schools that teach human sexuality is to teach abstinence as the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Whether Congress expands sex education now or in the future, states must adopt new standards for health education. Also, any changes are likely to be vociferously opposed by some Republican legislators and groups who believe sex education is a parental prerogative.

Still, advocates such as Adams believe that through intensive sex education, they can emphasize abstinence as the best option for teenagers while providing them with medically accurate information about sex and family planning as adults. and health services.

“They roam the world without enough information,” she told lawmakers in her July 26 testimony.

In fact, a 2021 survey on youth risk behaviors by the Indiana Department of Health found that the percentage of schools reporting teaching students about sexual health topics is decreasing.

In 2020, 41% of schools explained the effectiveness of condoms to 6th-8th grade teachers, compared to 57% 10 years ago. Similarly, 69% of schools report that their teachers teach middle-grade students how HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases are spread, compared with 94% in 2010.

bill under consideration

House Bill 1001 and Senate Bill 2, two bills that accompany the Abortion Act, authorize funding for programs that expand access to contraception, but do not allow students or minors to use contraception without parental consent. Exclude programs that offer.

But the bill simply had more potential for sex education. The original language of SB 2 sought to fund programs that “support pregnancy planning, including addressing barriers to long-acting reversible contraception.”

Rep. Chris Campbell (D-West Lafayette) also proposed an amendment to HB 1001 to expand the standards of sex education to include discussion of contraceptive effectiveness alongside abstinence.

The curriculum teaches “respect for marriage and committed relationships” and “makes abstinence appropriate for students who choose to do so, or who have been or have been sexually active.” .

The amendment was rejected by the House Ways and Means Committee, with Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) noting that sex education had been previously discussed and rejected and did not belong under HB 1001.

Campbell disagreed. In interviews, she said that children deserve accurate information about their health, ready to make informed decisions in the future.

“There are many misconceptions about the idea of ​​using comprehensive, age-appropriate, and medically appropriate sex education, which encourages children to engage in sexual activity. But research doesn’t show that at all,” Campbell said. Said.

Campbell said it was clear that the Sex Education Act would not pass with the current legislative make-up, but given voter support for a more comprehensive approach, it was important to keep trying.

“If we want to reduce unwanted, unplanned pregnancies, we need to educate people better,” Campbell said.

Senator Chris Garten (R-Charlestown), author of SB 2, declined to comment for this article. Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica, author of HB 1001, did not return requests for comment.

Rep. Sue Ellington (D-Muncie), who introduced the sex education bill in the previous Congress, said that if the abortion bill were passed, we would be obligated to use the tools at hand to prevent unintended pregnancies. rice field.

This would include sex education and better access to contraceptives, said Ellington, who served as public policy director for Planned Parenthood in Indiana and Kentucky. Without a sexual health curriculum, young people receive different information depending on where they attend school.

“If young people find the words and knowledge to delay sexual intercourse, or at least not delay it, it can be effective in knowing how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases,” Ellington said.

Cooperation with students and schools

Adams of the Indiana Health Council said sex education helps keep children safe and is much like math skills, starting with basic concepts in elementary school and building on those ideas throughout college. said.

Lessons can begin by teaching children the correct terminology for their body parts, the concept of personal space, and the skill of saying no to intrusion into that space. We might, but in high school classes we discuss the biology of conception and sexually transmitted diseases.

Creating new, clear standards would help prevent personal bias among health educators, whether they believe in abstinence or not, she added.

According to Adams, about 10% of those seeking services at her family planning center are teenagers, many of whom have parental support.

However, there are others who have not received sex education at home or school and who have come across inaccurate information from the internet or peers and are seeking help.

“They’re confused, they’ve heard something, but they don’t know what to believe. They’re like, ‘I kissed a boy, so I must be pregnant.’ I think,” Adams said.

Student questions ranged from Tammy Carter, CEO of LifeSmart Youth, an organization that provides health education in about 80 schools statewide, explaining how twin babies are born to why wet dreams occur. I’m talking about the bite.

In schools that invite organizations, health educators will teach for 5-10 days. Fourth grade topics include puberty, fifth grade covers reproductive basics, and higher grades discuss healthy relationships, Carter said.

The organization emphasizes that abstinence is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy, but does not offer abstinence-only sex education. Carter said he would not allow educators to provide medically accurate information about conception or sexually transmitted diseases.

“If 30% of high school students have had sex, they can’t afford to just abstain,” says Carter.

Carter believes most of the debate around sex education centers around starting too early. However, because menstruation can begin in the second half of elementary and middle school or the first half of middle school, Carter said it’s important for girls to receive timely information.

“Why should I wait until high school to tell her that her body is working to conceive?” Carter said.

Carter also said the school pulled out of the program last year after heated debate over a bill that sought to ban a range of “divisive concepts” from classrooms. The bill was not passed, but political backlash has chilled some schools.

Carter said more funding would expand the organization’s efforts to not only educate young students about human development, but also teenagers about dating violence.

According to a Department of Health study, the percentage of Indiana female students who report being forced to have sex has increased from 14.5% in 2011 to 17% in 2021.

Overall, Carter said he hopes the state will move away from abstinence-only education.

“The right step is to increase policies and funding to support youth prevention and youth sex education,” Carter said. “The responsible thing is to expand the education young people need to make sound decisions about their bodies.”

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana’s education policy and writes about K-12 schools statewide. Please contact her at