Another Anti-Choice Hypocrisy: Freedom of Speech and Sex Education On Our Terms or Not At All

Robin Marty

Why do same people who condemn sex education in elementary schools also tend to support anti-choice displays in those same classrooms?

Anti-choice advocates are declaring it a victory for first amendment rights.  A 12 year-old girl who was asked by school administrators to remove a graphic anti-abortion t-shirt she wore to her elementary school sued, stating the action violated her free speech rights.

Now, two years later, the girl’s family has received a $50,000 settlement from the school district to, according to district officials, pay court fees to end the case, not to admit any wrongdoing.

The t-shirt was allegedly worn as part of American Life League’s “National Pro-Life T-shirt Day” action in 2008, according to the group.  On that day, students are encouraged to wear shirts to school that have anti-abortion statements in an attempt to “educate” other pupils about the importance of protesting abortion.  Yes, even in elementary schools.  Via California Catholic Daily:

[Attorney William J. Becker Jr. of The Becker Law Firm] Becker, assisted by the Thomas More Law Center, filed suit on behalf of [mother] Anna and [student] Tiffany Amador. “Public school students are not forbidden from proclaiming the value of life under the First Amendment. The school has done the right thing by avoiding a trial and allowing a judgment to be entered in favor of this student on all claims. All Americans, no matter their age, are free to exercise their constitutional right to speak out against the barbarism of on-demand abortion, and that includes public school students who do so in a non-disruptive manner.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

“Student speech at all grade levels is protected by the First Amendment,” said Becker. “With few exceptions, such as profanity and lewdness, the Constitution prohibits school officials from picking and choosing what messages they find acceptable and what messages they find unacceptable. The message of the shirt was that life demands respect. This is a particularly vital message for vulnerable young girls.”

It is important to speak to children, especially “vulnerable young girls,” at a very young age about abortion, even at schools, according to anti-choice activists.  Not only do they advocate t-shirts to start the discussion, but they have another day targeted specifically to young children in schools: Pro-Life Cupcake Day.

“What’s worse than being in third grade and not having anyone celebrate your birthday?” the website asks. “Not being allowed to be born,” it answers.  And what better way to make that point than by baking cupcakes to bring to school, then starting up a discussion about abortion over the confections?

From Cupcakes for Life:

Q.) What if my school won’t allow me to bring in cup cakes?

A1.) Give them out before or after school!

A2.) Do it anyway and be quick about it! Also be very apologetic and kind if you get caught.[emphasis added]

A3.) Ask for permission to bring in pre-packaged cupcakes from a bakery!

A4.) Just pass out flyers and make cupcakes after school and hand them out to your neighbors in the name of life. Whatever you do, don’t give up when confronted by opposition!

Q.) What should I say about abortion when I hand out my cupcakes?

A.) We really want to give you the freedom to say whatever you want but make sure you say something! If you don’t know why you are pro-life do a little research online. The website: Abort73.com is a great place to start. The point of this entire project is to not remain silent about abortion so as long as you say something and pass out cupcakes you have accomplished your mission!

They even provide specifics on best practices for elementary school children:

Ideas for elementary school kids:

Some kids are not ready to know everything about abortion; however, a mom could bake a batch of cupcakes that just say: I Heart Babies on them. The young student could go into class and tell all of his or her friends about how babies need lots of love as they slowly grow inside their mommies.

Wait…babies grow inside their mommies? That sounds suspiciously like…sex education!

But of course, that can’t be so, because all topics that might touch on sex need parental permission and no child should be subjected to it at school.  That includes any mention of contraceptive options, sexually transmitted disease avoidance, pregnancy prevention, or discussions of the human body and its functions.

After all, remember the uproar about the proposed idea of handing out condoms at an elementary school, followed by a counseling session regarding proper use as well as a discussion about abstinence? Parents were allegedly up at arms that their parental rights were being usurped, and the Massachusetts Family Institute was on the warpath defending them.

Kris Mineau, President, Massachusetts Family Institute, called the new policy “radical” and “absurd.”

“Making condoms available to first graders bullies parents to submit to an agenda that promotes sexual promiscuity to innocent children at their most vulnerable age,” Mineau said in a statement.

Mineau commented that the decision by the Provincetown School Committee “demonstrates the lengths to which some will go to emasculate parents’ rights …”

Or how about when an anti-choice District Attorney took it upon himself to threaten teachers with arrest for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” if they participated in the new age-appropriate sex ed classes being mandated by the state?  District Attorney Scott Southward went as far as to call teaching students about contraception a promotion of “the sexualization – and sexual assault – of our children.”

So there you have it.  The anti-choice paradox: discussing abortion in schools is a child’s right and should be done at any and every age, as long as that child is promoting an anti-choice agenda.  Discussing reproductive health, including anatomy, contraception, or protection from STI’s in a fact-based and age-appropriate manner, however, is at all times off-limits for school children of any age without prior approval from all parents and the promotion that the only acceptable choice is to be abstinent until you are married.

Now if only they could find a way to fit that slogan on a t-shirt.

Commentary Sexual Health

Fewer Young People Are Getting Formal Sex Education, But Can a New Federal Bill Change That?

Martha Kempner

Though the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act has little chance of passing Congress, its inclusive and evidence-based approach is a much-needed antidote to years of publicly funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which may have contributed to troubling declines in youth knowledge about sexual and reproductive health.

Recent research from the Guttmacher Institute finds there have been significant changes in sexuality education during the last decade—and not for the better.

Fewer young people are receiving “formal sex education,” meaning classes that take place in schools, youth centers, churches, or community settings. And parents are not necessarily picking up the slack. This does not surprise sexuality education advocates, who say shrinking resources and restrictive public policies have pushed comprehensive programs—ones that address sexual health and contraception, among other topics—out of the classroom, while continued funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs has allowed uninformative ones to remain.

But just a week before this research was released in April, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act (REHYA). If passed, REHYA would allocate federal funding for accurate, unbiased sexuality education programs that meet strict content requirements. More importantly, it would lay out a vision of what sexuality education could and should be.

Can this act ensure that more young people get high-quality sexuality education?

In the short term: No. Based on the track record of our current Congress, it has little chance of passing. But in the long run, absolutely.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Less Sexuality Education Today

The Guttmacher Institute’s new study compared data from two rounds of a national survey in the years 2006-2010 and 2011-2013. It found that even the least controversial topics in sex education—sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV and AIDS—are taught less today than a few years ago. The proportion of young women taught about STDs declined from 94 percent to 90 percent between the two time periods, and young women taught about HIV and AIDS declined from 89 percent to 86 percent during the same period.

While it may seem like a lot of young people are still learning about these potential consequences of unprotected sex, few are learning how to prevent them. In the 2011-2013 survey, only 50 percent of teen girls and 58 percent of teen boys had received formal instruction about how to use a condom before they turned 18. And the percentage of teens who reported receiving formal education about birth control in general decreased from 70 percent to 60 percent among girls and from 61 percent to 55 percent among boys.

One of the only things that did increase was the percentage of teen girls (from 22 percent to 28 percent) and boys (from 29 to 35 percent) who said they got instruction on “how to say no to sex”—but no corresponding instruction on birth control.

Unfortunately, many parents do not appear to be stepping in to fill the gap left by formal education. The study found that while there’s been a decline in formal education, there has been little change in the number of kids who say they’ve spoken to their parents about birth control.

Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, told Rewire that this can lead to a dangerous situation: “In the face of declining formal education and little discussion from their parents, young people are left to fend for themselves, often turning to their friends or the internet-either of which can be fraught with trouble.”

The study makes it very clear that we are leaving young people unprepared to make responsible decisions about sex. When they do receive education, it isn’t always timely: It found that in 2011-2013, 43 percent of teen females and 57 percent of teen males did not receive information about birth control before they had sex for the first time.

It could be tempting to argue that the situation is not actually dire because teen pregnancy rates are at a historic low, potentially suggesting that young people can make do without formal sex education or even parental advice. Such an argument would be a mistake. Teen pregnancy rates are dropping for a variety of reasons, but mostly because because teens are using contraception more frequently and more effectively. And while that is great news, it is insufficient.

Our goals in providing sex education have to go farther than getting young people to their 18th or 21st birthday without a pregnancy. We should be working to ensure that young people grow up to be sexually healthy adults who have safe and satisfying relationships for their whole lives.

But for anyone who needs an alarming statistic to prove that comprehensive sex education is still necessary, here’s one: Adolescents make up just one quarter of the population, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate they account for more than half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that occur each year in this country.

The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act

The best news about the REHYA is that it takes a very broad approach to sexuality education, provides a noble vision of what young people should learn, and seems to understand that changes should take place not just in K-12 education but through professional development opportunities as well.

As Advocates for Youth explains, if passed, REHYA would be the first federal legislation to ever recognize young people’s right to sexual health information. It would allocate funding for education that includes a wide range of topics, including communication and decision-making skills; safe and healthy relationships; and preventing unintended pregnancy, HIV, other STIs, dating violence, sexual assault, bullying, and harassment.

In addition, it would require all funded programs to be inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students and to meet the needs of young people who are sexually active as well as those who are not. The grants could also be used for adolescents and young adults in institutes of higher education. Finally, the bill recognizes the importance of teacher training and provides resources to prepare sex education instructors.

If we look at the federal government’s role as leading by example, then REHYA is a great start. It sets forth a plan, starts a conversation, and moves us away from decades of focusing on disproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. In fact, one of the fun parts of this new bill is that it diverts funding from the Title V program, which received $75 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2016. That funding has supported programs that stick to a strict eight-point definition of “abstinence education” (often called the “A-H definition”) that, among other things, tells young people that sex outside of marriage is against societal norms and likely to have harmful physical and psychological effects.

The federal government does not make rules on what can and cannot be taught in classrooms outside of those programs it funds. Broad decisions about topics are made by each state, while more granular decisions—such as what curriculum to use or videos to show—are made by local school districts. But the growth of the abstinence-only-until-marriage approach and the industry that spread it, researchers say, was partially due to federal funding and the government’s “stamp of approval.”

Heather Boonstra, director of public policy at the Guttmacher Institute and a co-author of its study, told Rewire: “My sense is that [government endorsement] really spurred the proliferation of a whole industry and gave legitimacy—and still does—to this very narrow approach.”

The money—$1.5 billion total between 1996 and 2010—was, of course, at the heart of a lot of that growth. School districts, community-based organizations, and faith-based institutions created programs using federal and state money. And a network of abstinence-only-until-marriage organizations grew up to provide the curricula and materials these programs needed. But the reach was broader than that: A number of states changed the rules governing sex education to insist that schools stress abstinence. Some even quoted all or part of the A-H definition in their state laws.

REHYA would provide less money to comprehensive education than the abstinence-only-until-marriage funding streams did to their respective programs, but most advocates agree that it is important nonetheless. As Jesseca Boyer, vice president at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), told Rewire, “It establishes a vision of what the government could do in terms of supporting sex education.”

Boonstra noted that by providing the model for good programs and some money that would help organizations develop materials for those programs, REHYA could have a broader reach than just the programs it would directly fund.

The advocates Rewire spoke with agree on something else, as well: REHYA has very little chance of passing in this Congress. But they’re not deterred. Even if it doesn’t become law this year, or next, it is moving the pendulum back toward the comprehensive approach to sex education that our young people need.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify Jesseca Boyer’s position at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

News Law and Policy

Alabama Abortion Clinics Could Soon Be Regulated Like Sex Offenders

Teddy Wilson

GOP backers of the measure have said that abortion clinics should not be near schools because of the "commotion" caused by anti-choice protesters outside the facility.

The Republican-dominated Alabama legislature green lighted a pair of anti-choice bills Wednesday in the final hours the legislative session: one that regulates abortion clinics like sex offenders and another that criminalizes a common method of second-trimester abortion care.

Both measures were passed by wide margins. Republican Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to sign both bills.

SB 205, sponsored by state Sen. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville), would prohibit the Alabama Department of Public Health from issuing or renewing a health center license to an abortion clinic or reproductive health center located within 2,000 feet of a public school, regulating abortion clinics in the same manner as registered sex offenders.

GOP backers of the measure have said that abortion clinics should not be near schools because of the “commotion” caused by anti-choice protesters outside the facility.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The bill targets a Huntsville-area abortion clinic that was forced by state legislators three years ago to relocate across the street from a school. The Alabama Women’s Center, one of five clinics in the state providing abortion care, reportedly spent $550,000 in relocation costs to comply with a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law Bentley signed in 2013.

The West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, which is located near the Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Elementary, would also be forced to close.

The two clinics provide the vast majority of abortion services in the state. The clinics performed 5,927 abortion procedures in 2014, or 72 percent of the abortion procedures in the state that year, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. The house gave final approval to SB 205 with a 73-18 vote, with two Democrats joining Republicans in voting in favor of the bill.  

Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle), who sponsored an identical bill in 2015 that didn’t pass, said during floor debate that the bill was intended to protect school children, reported the Associated Press.

“I don’t feel like these types of facilities need to be anywhere near our children,” Henry said.

Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) said during the floor debate that it was disturbing that a person or facility would comply with state law only to be penalized by lawmakers.

“It is unfair for an individual to meet the demands of a law that we passed and when they moved, we create another law to put them basically out of business,” Hall said.

Officials from the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama have vowed to file a lawsuit challenging the law if it is signed by the governor. 

“This law is an attack on the health and well-being of Alabama women. Government and politicians should not intrude on these personal, private family decisions,” Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement. “If passed, this outrageous law will only result in yet another costly lawsuit, which is the last thing our state needs.”

SB 363 would prohibit a physician from performing a “dismemberment abortion” unless it is necessary to prevent serious health risk to the pregnant person. This law targets a procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D and E), which is frequently used during second-trimester abortions.

Physicians who violate the law would face fines of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to two years. The house approved SB 363 with a 74-26 vote, with two Democrats joining the Republicans in passing the measure. 

An abortion using suction aspiration can be performed up to 14 weeks’ gestation, but after 14 weeks, the D and E procedure is commonly used to perform an abortion, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. As such, D and E bans, depending upon their language, may ban all surgical abortion past 14 weeks’ gestation.

Republican legislators in several states have introduced bills to ban the D and E procedure over the past two years. The bills have been copies of legislation drafted by the anti-choice group known as the National Right to Life Committee.

Alabama will join neighboring Mississippi in passing bills this year outlawing the procedure if Bentley signs SB 363.

State courts have blocked such measures passed by GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma and Kansas. West Virginia’s Republican-held legislature in March voted to override the veto of a similar anti-choice bill.

Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) called out what he viewed as Republican hypocrisy during the floor debate, as GOP lawmakers restrict abortion access while refusing to provide health care for low-income families.

“We want to ban abortions, but we don’t want to fund Medicaid to take care of the babies once they’re born,” Ford said.