It seems that whenever religious belief wrangles with education or public policy, the battle takes places either in Missouri or its western neighbor Kansas. It should come as no surprise to learn then that Missouri made headlines this summer with the passage of House Bill 1055.
The bill, signed by Gov. Matt Blunt in early July, makes several modifications to the state’s existing abortion laws and revises the state’s sex education guidelines to bring them in line with federal guidelines. Further, the law prohibits public school districts and charter schools from allowing anyone affiliated with any organization that provides abortion services from “offering, sponsoring or furnishing course materials related to human sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases.”
Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jefferson City, Mo., describes the result of this bill as “havoc.”
“I worked the entire session with six other senators to mitigate the havoc caused by this bill,” she said at the time of the bill-signing. “In the end, the right-to-life gang put theocracy ahead of good public policy and women’s health, and the majority was unwilling to compromise with us on any of the issues.”
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As the bill was introduced and debated, Mathematica Policy Research Inc. released its findings on the national impact of Title V, Section 510 abstinence education programs. Justus says she thought that would create more resistance to the change in Missouri law.
“Needless to say, by creating a climate of abstinence-only education in this state, the net effect will be more unintended pregnancies and only one abortion clinic left in the state,” she said. “Anti-choice people cry victory, but we know from history that this will simply result in more abortions, but they will no longer be carried out in a safe and legal environment.”
Before passage of the legislation, Missouri law required students be presented with “the latest medically factual information regarding both the possible side effects and health benefits of all forms of contraception, including the success and failure rates for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.” An opt-out is now also on the books and it states that sex education “shall present students with information on contraceptives and pregnancy in a manner consistent with the provisions of the federal abstinence education law.”
This language, when combined with the banishment of entities providing abortion services, creates a monopoly. The only groups now allowed to teach sexual education in Missouri are those that subscribe to abstinence-only-until-marriage guidelines set forth in Title V, Section 510.
During the past fiscal year, Missouri received nearly $5 million in federal funds for abstinence education. Nearly $1 million administered by Missouri’s health department is distributed among 16 contractors that include crisis pregnancy centers, county health departments, school districts and community centers. The remainder of the state’s federal disbursements are granted through Community-Based Abstinence Education. The CBAE funds are shared by seven organizations. Each group is allowed to select its own curriculum so long as as the instructional content follows the federal guidelines.
Despite there being no sound scientific evidence linking abortion to subsequent mental health problems at least one of the CBAE grantees in Missouri uses the claim as part of its instruction. The Women’s Clinic of Kansas City/LifeGuard Youth Development, a crisis pregnancy center purposefully constructed next door to an existing Planned Parenthood site, calls itself a “nonprofit medical clinic.” On its website, the agency lists symptoms of “post-abortive stress syndrome” ranging from anxiety to low self-esteem to repeat abortions. Neither the American Psychological Association nor the American Psychiatric Association recognizes “post-abortion stress syndrome” as a legitimate medical condition.
Another grantee, LifeChoices of Joplin, also claims that an abortion causes negative feelings which, left untreated, “can progress into what is called Post-Abortion Syndrome.” Further, the group provides a false link between abortion and breast cancer, stating, “abortion is the most preventable risk factor for breast cancer.” In February 2003, the National Cancer Institute convened a group of 100 experts on pregnancy and breast cancer risk to review “existing population-based, clinical and animal studies on the relationship between pregnancy and breast cancer risk, including studies of induced and spontaneous abortion” and concluded that induced abortion is not linked to an increase in the risk of breast cancer.
The Future Leaders Outreach Network conducts an abstinence-only-until-marriage program called I CAN W.A.I.T. (Why Abstinence Is my Testimony) in schools, community groups and faith-based settings. The group publishes a magazine for youth that contains disparaging messages about condoms such as “With the popular slogan safe sex advocating condom use, STDs have increased at a phenomenal rate over the last 10 years.”
Until Congress returns from its August recess and resumes debate of abstinence-only education funding, it is unknown if Missouri legislators will need to go back to the drawing board for HB 1055. Their law now calls for all state programs to fall in line with federal guidelines that are poised to expire Sept. 30. Congress could do nothing and allow the entire program to expire. It also could re-authorize the program with no significant changes. A third option — and the one that most pundits believe likely — is that the guidelines will be rewritten to a less-strict and more fact-based sex education policy.