Last Monday while I cleaned out my pantry I found myself talking to my radio. That's because I was listening to NPR and they were discussing a bill that was on the Utah senate floor. Bill HB363 goes something like this: Utah schools can only teach abstinence-only concepts for sex education. Nothing else. If students ask teachers about something otherthan abstinence? Teachers cannot respond. This bill was fueled by homeschoolers who didn't like the fact that some of Utah's current sex education comes from Planned Parenthood.
As I listened to the radio (and argued back), my fears started to calm a little bit because every. single. person who called in to the radio show was against the bill. This made me feel a bit better because A---if the average person doesn't want this bill to pass, it shouldn't, right? And B---it seems obvious and logical that almost every average person would agree that this bill is a ridiculous idea. How could our state legislators pass this bill?
Well. I was wrong. It passed.
And I am up in arms. Never mind the fact that if people actually voted on this bill it wouldn't, I believe, pass. Never mind the fact that the passing of bill HB363 reinforces my current deep discouragement over and deep mistrust in politics actually being about American (or Utah) citizens. What really got me going is the horribly flawed concepts behind such a bill. So today I am ranting. And I am hoping that if you live in Utah OR you care about what happens in Utah, you will write the governor TODAY and ask him to veto the bill. My rants, which might be surprising to my friends and neighbors but which I need to say anyway:
1. People in Utah are so afraid of abortion that they lose all common sense. Yes: Planned Parenthood provides abortions. They also provide other services that some people don't have access to in any other way. The reality is that the fear of abortion, or anything slightly linked to it, makes people forget that there are bigger issues at play here. The reality of life is that there are going to be accidental pregnancies. Teenagers, whose brains are still developing and who don't, in a physiological sense, always really understand the fact that they are not immune to bad things, are going to have sex. Some of them are going to get pregnant. Some of them are going to get abortions.
People here tend to think that teenage pregnancy and abortion doesn't happen in the "good" families. I personally know two friends who came from those "good" families who had abortions. They both look at that time in their lives as one of their hardest and darkest. They also feel like they made the right decision.
Unlike perhaps most of my neighbors, I am pro-choice. That doesn't mean I'm pro-abortion; I don't think I would ever personally chose to have an abortion. But the important word in this debate isn't even abortion. It is CHOICE. Having seen first hand the affects of someone choosing abortion, I know that the idea that this is a choice made lightly is completely false. It is a HARD choice and a life-long consequence, but so is any pregnancy. I think that until you have been in the shoes of a pregnant teenager, your opinions don't really count. I am also a adamant proponent of adoption, which is a choice that not enough pro-choice supports remember. I believe that in ideal situations, a pregnant teenager should have her baby and place it for adoption. But I also know that ideal situations aren't always in the cards. Sometimes teenagers chose abortion and that is simply life. Basing so many other decisions on the people who chose abortion is illogical.
2. One of the point of sex education should be preventing teenage pregnancy—to educate students so that they never have to chose between adoption, abortion, or becoming a teenage parent. Abstinence-only concepts will fail at this because of one basic fact: teenagers are going to have sex. Sure, in the (again) ideal world, none of them would. In the ideal world, they would know that what their bodies are capable of is a separate issue from what their minds, souls, and hearts are capable of. (Meaning: they are physically able to create a baby, but not emotionally able to parent that baby, let alone the financial aspects.)
Teenagers might look like young adults, but they are not. Think back to when you were a teenager and learning about your body. Did you really have an understanding of how it really all works? Of course not. You learned by doing. And some teenagers are going to do it. When they are in the heat of the moment, some of them will remember the abstinence-only education. Not all of them will, though. (Let's face it: how many adults could stop in the heat of the moment?) But maybe if they've also been educated about condoms they might go ahead and use one. Maybe the fear of STDs might stop them. Maybe knowing that they can get pregnant if it's their first time might stop them. Maybe understanding that just because they didn't get pregnant when they had sex with their last boyfriend doesn't mean they can't do so with this one will stop them.
3. Abstinence-only cloaks sexuality in mystery. This is because it removes the ability to talk about sexuality. It makes it forbidden; HB363 literally makes it illegal for teachers to discuss anything about sex. Let's think about what makes something intriguing: mystery certainly does that. "Forbidden" does, too. It's the same concept as banning a book: people want to read that banned book simply because it is banned.
I believe that people should talk about sex. Teenagers should talk about sex with their parents. AND with their teachers. This is because of one shocking point: teenagers don't always listen to their parents. Having another adult in the world telling them that they CAN get pregnant if they have sex and they CAN catch diseases if they have sex reinforces their knowledge. Having another source of education means that they might be more likely to believe or to listen to what they are hearing.
Sex isn't bad. It doesn't need to be relegated to darkness. And, let's be honest here: the world does not relegate it to darkness. Nearly every TV show you can think of has sexuality in it. Music is sexual. Movies. Magazine ads. Walk down the mall and you're bombarded with sexual images. Telling kids to abstain until they're married won't make the rest of these images go away. Talking about it will help them know and understand what to do with the emotions that bombardment causes.
4. One of the supports of the bill said something like this. "If we teach our teenagers that abstinence is the best choice, but then we turn around and teach them how to get access to birth control, it's just like telling them that drugs are bad but then giving them a list of places where they could get heroin." Deep sigh.
Sex is dangerous. But, you know? I think heroin is worse. If this makes me a bad Mormon then I am a bad Mormon, but if I had to chose I would rather my teenager was sexually active than a drug addict. Or an alcoholic, for that matter. (Of course, I don't want them to be either. Which is why I talk to my kids about sex. And drugs. And even...rock and roll. ) This doesn't mean I am downplaying the risks and the emotional impact of adolescent sexuality. It does mean I know, first hand, the devastation that drugs and alcoholism cause, and it is worse. The fact that some well-meaning person can make that comparison speaks to the logic behind the bill.
5. One more personal truth. Deep down, I honestly don't believe that any sex education plan will be able to help ALL teenagers. There will always be teenage pregnancy because of the way that teenagers work. That is just reality. But to me this means we need to work even harder to educate them with the facts, because if our education can help even ONE teenager from getting pregnant, catching an STD, or going through the emotional consequences of having sex before he or she is emotionally ready, then our education has been successful for that teen.
In other words: education is only going to stop some teens from having sex. How many teens will abstinence only stop?
If you want to contact the governor and ask him to veto bill HB363, you can do so HERE.
(I hope those of you who know me in real life will still be my friend after reading my rant and my opinions.)