Utah Passes Bill Banning Sex Education in Schools (UPDATED)

Utah has passed a bill that would ban schools from teaching anything other than abstinence during health classes.
Utah has passed a bill that would ban schools from teaching anything other than abstinence during health classes.

Most parents hope that teens will hold off on having sex, so most would agree that, when it comes to sex education, encouraging abstinence is important. But lawmakers in Utah have taken the ideal to the extreme, passing a bill this week that would make it illegal to talk about premarital sex, sexuality in general, homosexuality, and contraception, even in terms of preventing sexually transmitted diseases -- and even if a student asks a specific question about any of those topics.

"Human sexuality instruction or instructional programs may not include instruction in, or the advocacy of, the intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation, or erotic behavior; homosexuality; the use of contraceptive methods or devices; or sexual activity outside of marriage," reads the bill, HB 363.

The Senate breezed through debate over the bill on Tuesday and then passed it, 19 to 10. According to those in favor of the bill, sex and sexuality are things that parents should address at home.

"To replace the parent in the school setting, among people who we have no idea what their morals are, we have no ideas what their values are, yet we turn our children over to them to instruct them in the most sensitive sexual activities in their lives, I think is wrongheaded," Republican state Senator Stuart Reid told the Salt Lake Tribune.

State Senator Pat Jones, a Democrat, called the bill "a mandate against reality" and pointed out that in Utah, students do not automatically take sex ed classes -- parents who want their kids enrolled must opt in to the programs. But with this new mandate, school districts could eliminate the class entirely; those that do decide to offer a sex ed class will be required by law to only talk about abstinence.

Democratic state Senator Ross Romero pointed out that many kids won't learn about pregnancy and disease prevention at all if schools aren't allowed to teach them, and that homosexual students may end up with no one in whom to confide.

"We've been discussing this as if every child has the benefit of two loving and caring parents who are ready to have a conversation about appropriate sexual activity," Romero told the Salt Lake Tribune. "And I'm here to tell you that's just not the case."

Republican lawmakers acknowledged Romero's point, but added that it was a moral issue, not just an educational one.

"I recognize that some parents do not take the opportunity to teach in their own homes, but we as a society should not be teaching or advocating homosexuality or sex outside marriage or different forms of contraceptives for premarital sex," said Republican state Senator John Valentine.

The Utah Parent-Teacher Association had opposed the bill, and president-elect Liz Zenter said that she was "totally shocked" by the state senate's vote.

"I just can't believe they did this," Zentner said. "I think they're going to have to revisit it in a couple years when the teen pregnancy rates and teen [sexually transmitted disease] rates shoot through the roof."

According to the Utah Department of Health, 11 percent of all births in the state each year are to teenagers, and 33 percent of students age 15 to 17 admit that they have had at least one sexual encounter.

But nevertheless, supporters of the bill feel that focusing on ideals is a better plan than focusing on demographic data.

"I think that our children are so important and we cannot afford to tell them anything but the truth," said Dalane England, Utah Eagle Forum vice president of issues. "And the truth is the only way to protect yourself physically and emotionally is to abstain from sex until you are married and to be faithful in a relationship."

Education about disease prevention, homosexuality, and human sexuality isn't necessary, England added, because "When you have the truth and the whole truth you don't need anything else."

UPDATE, 3/19/12:

Utah Governor Gary Herbert, who many assumed would support the bill, instead vetoed in late last week.

"If HB 363 were to become law, parents would no longer have the option the overwhelming majority is currently choosing for their children. I am unwilling to conclude that the state knows better than Utah's parents as to what is best for their children," he said. "In order for parents to take on more responsibility, they need more information, more involvement, and more choice-not less. I cannot sign a bill that deprives parents of their choice."

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