Thursday, January 22, 2009

Playing a Little Offense

Finally, some on the left (or maybe just center) have decided to stop playing defense in the Indiana General Assembly and have, instead begun to offer bills to counter some recent efforts by the religious right. Allow me to offer two examples that have been introduced in the latest session.

House Bill 1317 (authored by Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond) and its companion Senate Bill 258 (authored by Sen. Jean D. Breaux, D-Indianapolis) would require schools that adopt an abstinence-only sexual education curriculum to notify parents of that curriculum choice. Parents would then have the option to have their child excluded from that curriculum. More importantly, the notice from the school’s principal about the use of an abstinence-only curriculum would tell parents:

Your child is receiving abstinence-only human sexuality education.

Abstinence-only education does not teach students how to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases other than by remaining abstinent.

Your child is not receiving the following:

     (A) Information on methods, other than abstinence, for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
     (B) Medically accurate instruction on the risks and benefits, including safety and efficacy, of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved methods for:
          (i) reducing the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS; and
          (ii) preventing pregnancy.
     (C) Medically accurate instruction regarding the correct use of FDA approved methods for:
          (i) reducing the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS; and
          (ii) preventing pregnancy.
     (D) Instruction that provides lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students with the necessary skills for making and implementing responsible decisions about relationships and sexuality, including the use of all effective methods to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
     (E) Instruction that provides sexually active students with the necessary skills for making and implementing responsible decisions about relationships and sexuality, including the use of all effective methods to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

You have the right to review the abstinence-only curriculum in its entirety. Written and audiovisual educational materials used in abstinence-only education are available for inspection.

You have the right to excuse your child from all or parts of abstinence-only instruction.

You have the right to be involved in your child's education.

There are several points to be made about this bill and the notice that it would require. First, for years, those on the right have argued that parents, not just school administrators, should be making decisions about education. This bill follows that philosophy, but, for a change, is giving parents a say in academic curricula decisions that are important to the religious right.

More importantly, look again at what the the notice to parents would say. I suppose that proponents of abstinence-only education will argue that a child in an abstinence-only program does, in a fashion, learn some of the things mentioned in the notice; after all, abstaining from sex will prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Of course, that argument presumes that abstinence-only education works. Studies have shown (see for example, “Experts say US sex abstinence program doesn’t work”) that abstinence-only programs do not lessen teen pregnancies, reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, or delay the age at which children become sexually active. Children in such programs who do become sexually active will not, as the notice reminds parents, have learned those skills and lessons. For that matter, those children, when they become young adults and do become sexually active (even those who wait until marriage), still will not have received the appropriate education on these subjects.

As fellow blogger Masson notes:

Might as well require [school principals] to send out a notice saying, “Hi, we’re being criminally negligent with your child’s education. How soon would you like our resignation?”

I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer that my children had the facts (and medically accurate facts at that) instead of making decisions in an knowledge vacuum.

Please call your legislators (and you can check the Indiana General Assembly’s “Who Are Your Legislators?” page to learn who your legislators are and get their contact information) and tell them to support House Bill 1317 and Senate Bill 258.

House Bill 1238 (authored by Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis) and its companion Senate Bill 20 (authored by  Sen. Sue Errington, D-Muncie) is, in essence, the opposite of the pharmacist refusal bill that I wrote about during the 2008 session of the Indiana General Assembly. Last year’s bill would have given a pharmacist legal cover for failing to dispense legally prescribed medications on the basis of the pharmacist’s religious beliefs. House Bill 1238, in contrast, would require that a pharmacy dispense properly prescribed contraceptives in accordance with the way that the pharmacy dispenses other medications (and, if the pharmacy does not carry the prescribed contraceptive, the pharmacy would be required to obtain the contraceptive or locate the closest pharmacy that does carry the prescribed contraceptive). Even more importantly, the bill provides that “the pharmacy will not intimidate, threaten, or harass the pharmacy's customers in the delivery of services”. In the other words, the pharmacist could not attempt to bully the patient into not using the contraceptive. It seems like such a simple proposition, yet I suspect that this bill will face fierce opposition.

Please call your legislators (remember, you can check the Indiana General Assembly’s “Who Are Your Legislators?” page to learn who your legislators are and get their contact information) and tell them to support House Bill 1238 and Senate Bill 20.

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