Bill clarifies, supports contraceptive education in Utah schools
Health education in the conservative state of Utah has nearly always been rife with controversy. When middle and high school educators start teaching the sex education unit, they are supposed to teach abstinence as the most effective way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.
But teachers are also permitted to educate their students about contraceptive methods and devices. Yet, oftentimes, they do not talk about contraceptives for fear of being accused of promoting them. A bill proposed in the Utah Legislature, H.B. 71, aims to clear up what health educators are allowed to teach in the classroom so they do not skip over the topic of contraceptives.
The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, recently received a favorable recommendation from the Senate Education Committee and passed in the Senate.
The legislation would not drastically alter health education policies — teachers would still be required to “stress the importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage” — but the bill includes a clause about contraceptive methods and devices.
The bill states teachers would be allowed to provide information to their students about the effectiveness, limitations, risks and other basic medical information about contraception. Teachers would still not be permitted to advocate or encourage the use of contraceptive methods, nor could they instruct about the intricacies of intercourse.
Ward has said while advocating for the bill that teachers are often confused where the line is between education and advocacy in the current statute. He said many educators avoid teaching about contraceptives at all for fear of overstepping their boundaries and losing their jobs.
Ward said during a Senate Education Committee meeting earlier this month that many adults later in life use contraceptive methods and devices, and students should be taught basic information about them.
“I think most all adults during the course of their adult life somewhere as they form their family use contraceptives. Not everybody, but most people do,” he said. “And having a baseline knowledge about what your options are, I think, helps people make their families be able to turn out how they want them to turn out.”
Traci Evans, interim associate superintendent of teaching and learning in the Park City School District, said the bill helps clarify what can be included during instruction, but it “does not fundamentally change how Park City School District does business.”
Heather Stringfellow, vice president of public policy with Planned Parenthood of Utah, said the organization supports the bill because it makes it more likely that teachers in the state will talk about contraceptives in class.
“Anything that we can do to educate our kids about how to avoid unintended pregnancy and STI prevention, the better off we will be,” she said.
She said the bill was watered down over time because it was amended a couple of times, but she believes the current legislation is still a step in the right direction for sex education in Utah. She said knowledge allows students to make more informed decisions and to be safe. Oftentimes, she hears teenagers with misinformation about contraceptive methods. She hopes the rewriting of the bill encourages teachers to provide accurate information to their students.
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Amendment G seems straighforward, but behind the language about supporting people with disabilities are legislative compromises decades in the making.