In response to the suggestion that sex education that includes information about contraception can help prevent unintended pregnancies, Texas state Rep. Steve Toth told a tale about a couple of teens who became so aroused by a sex ed lecture, they had a baby.
The Texas house recently passed an extreme bill that could force most of the state’s abortion clinics to close. Many of the debates over the bill were heated, but one of the more interesting ones started last Tuesday night after a house committee vote was over and three members of the committee had a conversation that was audio-taped by a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. In that conversation, Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) pointed out to two of her Republican colleagues, Reps. Steve Toth (The Woodlands) and Bill Zedler (Arlington), that sex education that includes information about contraception can help prevent unintended pregnancies, and therefore can reduce the number of abortions that are performed. Toth was quick to disagree about the merits of sex education.
My wife worked at a home for unwed moms, and one of the little kids that was born, his name is David. David came about as a result of his mom and dad, who were just 16 at the time, going to a Planned Parenthood deal where they taught them how to use contraceptives. They were not sexually active at that point. They got into the car, and they were so hot and bothered from this deal, he couldn’t even get the condom on.
Does this remind anyone else of an urban legend, like the one about the guy who woke up in a bathtub full of ice to find one of his kidneys missing, or the one where the spring breaker opens a present after a one-night stand to find a note saying “Congratulations, you have AIDS”? What stories like these have in common is that despite how crazy they sound, they always seem to be told by someone with a connection to the events. “No, really, it totally happened to my cousin’s friend!”
Toth had much the same response. When Howard replied, “That’s an interesting anecdote,” he shot back, “It’s the truth.”
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I will get back to Toth’s main point—that sex education makes kids hot and bothered—in a second, but I’d like to start with the other reasons I don’t believe this story. First, I suspect there’s no such thing as being so hot and bothered that you can’t get a condom on. If the young man in the story was that turned on, wouldn’t he simply have had a premature orgasm while he was pulling down his pants or unwrapping the condom? Second, despite what movies might want us to believe, the first time a person has sex isn’t generally a roiling rush of “I’ve got to have you this instant!” Not to be too graphic, but it takes a little while to figure out where exactly everything goes, which contradicts the theory that these teenagers were so turned on by learning about IUDs that they couldn’t use birth control.
Finally, though it is possible to get pregnant the very first time you have sex—and, as a sex educator, I am contractually obligated to remind everyone of that—it is statistically pretty unlikely. A woman’s chance of conceiving varies every day, depending how close she is to ovulation, but her average risk of getting pregnant from one act of intercourse is 3.1 percent. (At its peak, the day before ovulation, it’s 9 percent.) Don’t get me wrong; lots of people have unintended pregnancies, and some of them do come from one very unlucky, unprotected act, but most probably come from taking risks over a few days, weeks, or months.
Toth’s main point, however, is not that “David”‘s parents were unlucky enough to have gone to a sex education lecture on the teen girl’s most fertile day, but that the lecture itself was so arousing it caused them to have sex. I have no idea what lecture the teens listened to, but I can all but guarantee it was far less sexy than anything they could have seen on basic cable that day, let alone the vast amounts of porn they likely had access to on their computers and smartphones.
I’ve been to sex education classes, and I’ve taught them. They are not titillating—especially lessons on contraception. We hope they are thought-provoking and inspiring, but there really isn’t anything sexy about putting a condom on a banana or seeing which part of your arm a contraceptive implant would go in. Contraceptive lectures are so tame that I brought my six-year-old to one last semester. I was not worried that she would see or hear anything inappropriate. I was only worried that she’d be so bored she would constantly interrupt me. (And she did.)
If Rep. Toth would like more to go on than my opinion, however, he’s in luck, as we have years of research showing that sex education does not make kids any more likely to have sex. Rigorous evaluations of programs that teach young people about both abstinence and contraception (as any “Planned Parenthood deal” would) found that they do not encourage teens to start having sexual intercourse, do not increase the frequency with which teens have sex, and do not increase the number of sexual partners teens have. In fact, they do just the opposite: Teens who go through these programs start having sex later than their peers who did not, have sex less frequently, have fewer partners, and are more likely to use condoms and contraceptives when they do have sex.
Toth’s story may never turn up on Snopes, like those other urban legends, but it still seems apocryphal to me. And even if it is true, it doesn’t mean we should give up on sex education. If anything, those two teens are proof that we need to provide young people with more tools to make sexual decisions—like a reminder that no matter how turned on you are, you can always stop and a promise that the sex is going to be just as good, if not better, if you wait the 30 seconds it will take to put on a condom.
By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.
Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.
The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.
Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.
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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”
Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.
The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”
“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,” Walker said.
Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”
An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”
Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.
She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”
The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”
A Texas GOP lawmaker has teamed up with an anti-choice organization to raise awareness about the supposed prevalence of forced or coerced abortion, which critics say is “wildly divorced from reality.”
Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) during a press conference at the state capitol on July 13 announced an effort to raise awareness among public officials and law enforcement that forced abortion is illegal in Texas.
White said in a statement that she is proud to work alongside The Justice Foundation (TJF), an anti-choice group, in its efforts to tell law enforcement officers about their role in intervening when a pregnant person is being forced to terminate a pregnancy.
“Because the law against forced abortions in Texas is not well known, The Justice Foundation is offering free training to police departments and child protective service offices throughout the State on the subject of forced abortion,” White said.
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White was joined at the press conference by Allan Parker, the president of The Justice Foundation, a “Christian faith-based organization” that represents clients in lawsuits related to conservative political causes.
Parker told Rewire that by partnering with White and anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), TJF hopes to reach a wider audience.
“We will partner with anyone interested in stopping forced abortions,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re expanding it to police, social workers, and in the fall we’re going to do school counselors.”
White only has a few months remaining in office, after being defeated in a closely contested Republican primary election in March. She leaves office after serving one term in the state GOP-dominated legislature, but her short time there was marked by controversy.
During the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, she directed her staff to “ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”
Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in an email to Rewire that White’s education initiative overstates the prevalence of coerced abortion. “Molly White’s so-called ‘forced abortion’ campaign is yet another example that shows she is wildly divorced from reality,” Busby said.
There is limited data on the how often people are forced or coerced to end a pregnancy, but Parker alleges that the majority of those who have abortions may be forced or coerced.
‘Extremely common but hidden’
“I would say that they are extremely common but hidden,” Parker said. “I would would say coerced or forced abortion range from 25 percent to 60 percent. But, it’s a little hard be to accurate at this point with our data.”
Parker said that if “a very conservative 10 percent” of the about 60,000 abortions that occur per year in Texas were due to coercion, that would mean there are about 6,000 women per year in the state that are forced to have an abortion. Parker believes that percentage is much higher.
“I believe the number is closer to 50 percent, in my opinion,” Parker said.
Busby said that White used “flawed research” to lobby for legislation aimed at preventing coerced abortions in Texas.
“Since she filed her bogus coerced abortion bill—which did not pass—last year, she has repeatedly cited flawed research and now is partnering with the Justice Foundation, an organization known to disseminate misinformation and shameful materials to crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said.
White also sponsored HB 1648, which would have required a law enforcement officer to notify the Department of Family and Protective Services if they received information indicating that a person has coerced, forced, or attempted to coerce a pregnant minor to have or seek abortion care.
The bill was met by skepticism by both Republican lawmakers and anti-choice activists.
State affairs committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) told White during a committee hearing the bill needed to be revised, reported the Texas Tribune.
“This committee has passed out a number of landmark pieces of legislation in this area, and the one thing I think we’ve learned is they have to be extremely well-crafted,” Cook said. “My suggestion is that you get some real legal folks to help engage on this, so if you can keep this moving forward you can potentially have the success others have had.”
‘Very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem’
White testified before the state affairs committee that there is a connection between women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence and women who are coerced to have an abortion. “Pregnant women are most frequently victims of domestic violence,” White said. “Their partners often threaten violence and abuse if the woman continues her pregnancy.”
There is research that suggests a connection between coerced abortion and domestic and sexual violence.
Dr. Elizabeth Miller, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, told the American Independent that coerced abortion cannot be removed from the discussion of reproductive coercion.
“Coerced abortion is a very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem, which is violence against women and the impact it has on her health,” Miller said. “To focus on the minutia of coerced abortion really takes away from the really broad problem of domestic violence.”
A 2010 study co-authored by Miller surveyed about 1,300 men and found that 33 percent reported having been involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion; 8 percent reported having at one point sought to prevent a female partner from seeking abortion care; and 4 percent reported having “sought to compel” a female partner to seek an abortion.
Another study co-authored by Miller in 2010 found that among the 1,300 young women surveyed at reproductive health clinics in Northern California, about one in five said they had experienced pregnancy coercion; 15 percent of the survey respondents said they had experienced birth control sabotage.
‘Tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion’
TJF’s so-called Center Against Forced Abortions claims to provide legal resources to pregnant people who are being forced or coerced into terminating a pregnancy. The website includes several documents available as “resources.”
One of the documents, a letter addressed to “father of your child in the womb,” states that that “you may not force, coerce, or unduly pressure the mother of your child in the womb to have an abortion,” and that you could face “criminal charge of fetal homicide.”
The letter states that any attempt to “force, unduly pressure, or coerce” a women to have an abortion could be subject to civil and criminal charges, including prosecution under the Federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act.
The document cites the 2007 case Lawrence v. State as an example of how one could be prosecuted under Texas law.
“What anti-choice activists are doing here is really egregious,” said Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire’s vice president of Law and the Courts. “They are using a case where a man intentionally shot his pregnant girlfriend and was charged with murder for both her death and the death of the fetus as an example of reproductive coercion. That’s not reproductive coercion. That is extreme domestic violence.”
“To use a horrific case of domestic violence that resulted in a woman’s murder as cover for yet another anti-abortion restriction is the very definition of callousness,” Mason Pieklo added.
Parker said a patient might go to a “pregnancy resource center,” fill out the document, and staff will “send that to all the abortionists in the area that they can find out about. Often that will stop an abortion. That’s about 98 percent successful, I would say.”
Reproductive rights advocates contend that the document is intended to mislead pregnant people into believing they have signed away their legal rights to abortion care.
Abortion providers around the country who are familiar with the document said it has been used for years to deceive and intimidate patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.
Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, previously told Rewire that abortion providers from across the country have reported receiving the forms.
“It’s just another tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion—tricking women into thinking they have signed this and discouraging them from going through with their initial decision and inclination,” Saporta said.
Busby said that the types of tactics used by TFJ and other anti-choice organizations are a form of coercion.
“Everyone deserves to make decisions about abortion free of coercion, including not being coerced by crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said. “Anyone’s decision to have an abortion should be free of shame and stigma, which crisis pregnancy centers and groups like the Justice Foundation perpetuate.”
“Law enforcement would be well advised to seek their own legal advice, rather than rely on this so-called ‘training,” Busby said.