A group of North Carolina legislators want the state’s already restrictive sex education rules to leave out information about emergency contraception.
The bill, introduced last week, also removes the requirement that the information presented in sex ed is accepted by experts in the sexual health field.
North Carolina’s sexuality education law requires schools to provide a unit on reproductive health and safety beginning in the seventh grade. The course, however, must follow a strict abstinence-only approach. It must teach that “abstinence sexual activity outside of marriage is the expected standard for all school-age children” and that “abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain means of avoiding out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases when transmitted through sexual contact, including HIV/AIDS, and other associated health and emotional problems.”
The law goes on to say that programs must teach students that “a mutually faithful monogamous heterosexual relationship in the context of marriage is the best lifelong means of avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.”
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Courses are also required to teach students about how sexually transmitted disease (STDs) are and are not spread, and to explain “the effectiveness and safety of all FDA-approved contraceptive methods in preventing pregnancy.”
The new bill, H596, which is sponsored by Rep. James Whitmire (R-Henderson) and five other Republican leaders, would change this last part to exclude emergency contraception.
Though this is a common misconception (and one that is frequently spread by anti-choice activists), emergency contraceptive pills do not cause abortion.
Emergency contraception pills provide a high dose of hormones similar to those found in birth control pills. They are taken after unprotected sex and work by inhibiting ovulation. Sperm can only live for a few days and if no egg is released during this time, a pregnancy cannot occur. There is no evidence that these pills work after fertilization takes place.
If a woman is already pregnant, these pills will have no effect.
The Food and Drug Administration in 2013 decided to allow some emergency contraception pills to be available over the counter to women of all ages. This decision was made in part because emergency contraception is more effective the sooner it is taken. If this new bill becomes law, young people in North Carolina will not learn about this method of contraception in school and may not know that it is available to them or how to access it in time.
Bill sponsor Whitmire in 2013 pushed a bill that would require minors to obtain permission from a parent or guardian before accessing birth control or being tested and treated for pregnancy.
That bill carried over to the 2014 legislative session. It has not come up for a full vote.
H596 also changes the definition of “expert” as it applies to sex education courses. Currently, schools are required to present objective information “based upon scientific research that is peer reviewed and accepted by credentialed experts in the field of sexual health education.”
The revision broadens the definition of “expert” and could open the floodgates for misinformation in public school sex education courses.
The bill was filed on April 2. It has not received a committee hearing or full vote in either legislative chamber.