The days of sexual education emphasizing only abstinence may be over.
Legislation headed to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk would require schools to provide more information on contraception and disease control in grades 6 through 12 as part of a comprehensive, age-appropriate and medically accurate curriculum.
Quinn is expected to sign into law the House-passed bill sent to him last week by the Senate with a 37-21 vote.
Supporters say Illinois has high rates of teen pregnancies, diseases and sexual activity. The opposition argues rates of teen pregnancies and activity have decreased and the bill is unnecessary.
Planned Parenthood, a supporter of the measure, says surveys from the Guttmacher Institute done in 2011 show that Illinois has more than 300,000 pregnancies a year.
Planned Parenthood also argued almost half of the state’s teens were sexually active and accounted for 34 percent of chlamydia and 63 percent of gonorrhea cases.
Brigid Leahy, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said currently there is no one monitoring the accuracy of sexual education and these statistics prompted the reform.
“We hope what this will do is make it so that there is a better quality of sex education in schools,” Leahy said.
Scott Phelps, executive director of Abstinence & Marriage Education Partnership, counters that the bill detracts from traditional values of marriage and would lead to broken homes, more people living in poverty and teens being less educated.
He said during a hearing on the bill that replacing the phrase “abstinence-until-marriage,” with “abstinence,” will discourage teens from saving themselves until marriage.
“Without the objective standard of marriage, abstinence becomes a flexible, subjective term meaning whatever anyone might wish for it to mean,” he said.
He said deleting the term “marriage” allows teens to use their own discretion to decide when sex is appropriate instead of sticking to traditional standards. According to Phelps there is no need to redefine abstinence because teens’ sexual activity is declining.
He argued 53 percent of teens in the country are abstinent while 55 percent in Illinois abstain. According to Phelps, the Centers for Disease Control says the majority of teens have never had sexual intercourse. He said in addition the national teen pregnancy rate has fallen by 37 percent nationally and 40 percent in Illinois.
Opponents are also concerned that the schools not complying with the new standards would be forced to discontinue sex education classes.
However, Leahy said sexual education would continue as a requirement and schools could shape the curriculum within the parameters of the bill.
According to Leahy, in Illinois the15-24 age group has the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections, based on statistics from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“I think all of us would agree that teens should not be engaging in sex,” Leahy said. But she emphasized, “The most important thing that this bill can do is arm young people with information so that they can make responsible decisions. We want to keep them safe; we want to keep them healthy. This is about their future.”
Contact Jacqueline Muhammad at firstname.lastname@example.org.