Just as Alaska’s minors were being granted bodily autonomy by the state’s Supreme Court, its legislature was taking action to reduce access to comprehensive sexual health education under the guise of “a parent’s right to direct the education of a child.”
State Senator Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla introduced an amendment to HB 156, which supposedly empowers local communities and protects students by ensuring that the person administering sex ed classes throughout the state is a certified teacher. What it actually does, however, is kick Planned Parenthood out of the classroom.
Like a lot of state and federal legislators who have trouble passing stand-alone bills (see: North Carolina’s 2013 “Motorcyle Safety Abortion Law”), Dunleavy chose to give new life to his failed Senate Bill 89 as an amendment to a larger piece of legislation. SB 89, which would have prohibited abortion providers from teaching sex ed classes, couldn’t get through the state senate. Similar trouble garnering support in its amendment form led him to water it down to a slightly less obvious iteration: prohibiting anyone who’s not a certified teacher from teaching sex ed — rather than specifically barring abortion providers.
Obviously, this is ridiculous on its face; abortion is part of health care and accredited OBGYNs who are part of our sexual health-care system and culture provide information on abortion care (referring out if they don’t perform the procedure themselves) when their patients need it. Planned Parenthood affiliates around the country routinely teach sex ed in schools at various ages, addressing myriad aspects of age-appropriate sub topics related to sexual health.
Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands describes their program(s) this way:
“Our professional community health educators have been delivering factual and engaging presentations since the 1960s, tailoring content to the needs of each group. Comprehensive sexuality education is a medically accurate curriculum that provides young people with positive messages about sex and sexuality as natural, normal, healthy parts of life.
Our educators emphasize information about abstinence as the best way to avoid sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy. But also that condoms reduce the risk of infection and that other forms of birth control can prevent unplanned pregnancy. We create educational experiences that help young people develop relationship and communications skills to help them explore their own values, goals, and options as well as the values of their families.”
Oh the horror!
“HB 156 is a crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education in Alaska and [it has] elevated sex ed to the most scrutinized subject in the state,” Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Northwest spokeswoman Katie Rogers told a Juneau news outlet following Governor Bill Walker’s purposeful inaction allowing the bill to become law.
That’s right, inaction. Governor Walker seems to have taken a lesson from Indiana Governor (and now-Trump running mate) Mike Pence being publicly dragged for unnecessarily signing that state’s egregious anti-abortion law, HEA 1337, in March. Jennifer Kotting, communications director at the National Network of Abortion Funds and South Bend, Indiana resident described the post-HEA 1337 Indiana as “one of the most dangerous states in which to be pregnant.” Why affix your signature and make it less possible to distance yourself from a divisive bill when it will become law anyway?
Walker’s official statement about why he didn’t sign a bill he supports is the sort of insipid, nonsensical drivel we’re growing accustomed to from conservative legislators and candidates:
“This was a very close call for me. I received a lot of input on this legislation — from both sides. Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature.”
The only comments more inane and absurd than Walker’s came from Dunleavy:
“Sex education is the biology. Sexuality is now the new view of sex. I think we’ve got to be very careful, very careful that we have the right people in there.”
“We’ve been clear that sex education should be taught, reproduction education should be taught and the new concept that I think a lot of us are learning about — sexuality — probably should also be touched upon.”
The man who co-sponsored legislation to regulate who is allowed by law to teach sexual health in the classroom thinks that “sexuality” is a new concept.
“I stayed up most of (Tuesday) night after [SB] 89 died in the other body and I thought, ‘What’s the best way to serve kids, deal with the issue of sex education, sexuality education, and reproduction education?’ and I don’t know why I didn’t think about it earlier, but the same way we deal with biology, the same way with Spanish, the same way we deal with elementary ed — have it done by a certificated teacher who’s been vetted and hired and contracted with the school district.”
One wonders if he plans to throw the most qualified educators on those topics out of the classrooms as well.
Like most bills targeted at Planned Parenthood around the country, the effects reach far beyond the organization itself.
Erik Houser, spokesman for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, told Juneau Empire that the requirement for a once-a-year type course be taught by a certified, classroom teacher bars quite a number of health experts from participating in sexual health education.
“There are many other consequences of this because there are sexual health educators across the state who are not [from] Planned Parenthood, but who are also not people with teacher’s licenses,” Houser said. “This makes it so that nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and peer educators are now essentially outlawed from providing sexual health education in Alaska public schools.”
Planned Parenthood’s three full-time and one part-time educators are part of the support system that the organization provides to the communities it serves, which makes it even more ridiculous that the sponsors of HB 156 portray them as outsiders whose effect on Alaska’s school children can’t be trusted.
“They are invited in by teachers and principals to fill in a gap that the teacher either can’t fill or wants help filling,” Houser added.
The other problem with HB 156 is that it explicitly prohibits additional funding while barring the trained educators who are willing to provide this public service to the schools free of charge from entering the classroom.
Alyse Galvin of the statewide, non-partisan coalition Great Alaska Schools testified against Dunleavy’s amendment. “We don’t have extra money right now to train up teachers to get that done right,” she said.
This isn’t just fiscally irresponsible. Politicians are creating possible public health crises by eliminating comprehensive sex ed. Alaska already has the highest chlamydia rate in the nation, and the state shells out four times the national average per woman of reproductive age (15–44) on unplanned pregnancies — both of which indicate a lack of access to much-needed reproductive health care.
Comprehensive sex ed isn’t a fix-all for ensuring people have what they need to live healthy lives, but eliminating it from the curriculum is beyond counter-productive.
Lead image: Pixabay