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Abstinents Only

04 Nov
Abstinents Only

Take your pick — read in between the lines or the lines crossed out:

“Section 2. 118.019 (1) of the statutes is amended to read: The purpose of this section is to encourage all school boards to ensure that pupils in their districts are provided age-appropriate instruction in human growth and development. The instruction should support and enhance communication between pupils and their parents and provide pupils with the knowledge, skills, and support necessary to make healthy decisions now and throughout their lifetimes and to make responsible decisions about sexual behavior foster a partnership between parents of pupils attending schools in the school district and the schools in the school district to promote the optimal health and well-being of the pupils.”

STDs no longer have to be part of the ABCs when the three Rs of education are reading, writing, and religion.  Such is the anything but brave new world of [no] sex ed curriculum in Wisconsin, if Special Session Senate Bill 237 — which ought to be called “the Ostrich Proviso” or “the June Cleaver Recovery Act” — is adopted into law.  (Passed in senate strictly along party lines, the bill awaits “debate” in the State Assembly.)  At its basic, the bill would allow an advisory panel of community members to design a curriculum for school board approval and implementation of abstinence only education.  This marks a notable departure from the current law that already includes abstinence only, alongside a rostrum of related topics, such as birth control, infections, puberty, pregnancy, etc.  Clearly, such shibboleths are the playthings of Sodom and Gomorrah — or sodomy and gonorrhea (not that those could be discussed in class, if this bill is enacted into law) — and the Republican state senators have unanimously seen fit to strike them from the record.  As were “the health benefits, side effects, and proper use of contraceptives and barrier methods approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent pregnancy and barrier methods approved by the FDA to prevent sexually transmitted infections” — also eliminated from required curricula.

Said Sen. Glenn Grothman, liberal bete noire extraordinaire, “We are trying to back away from the bill passed last year that we feel mandated sex ed that was too nonjudgmental, too explicit and at too young an age.”  This is quite a candid and fantastic admission: something wasn’t judgmental enough!  What does judgment have to do with sex ed curriculum?  About as much as passing an abstinence only bill during a Special Session on jobs.  ‘Cause forbidding little Diane from knowing about a diaphragm is gonna help get people back to work…

Like everything political, the devil is in the details.

You can read the whole bill here, but below are some of the highlights…

(A)  “[R]equires a school board that offers an instructional program to do all of the following in the same course and during the same year: 1) present abstinence as the preferred choice of behavior for unmarried pupils; 2) emphasize that abstinence is the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and avoid sexually transmitted infections; 3) provide instruction in parental responsibility and the socioeconomic benefits of marriage; and 4) explain pregnancy, prenatal development, and childbirth.”  (“Preferred”?  Now that’s the kind of pro-judgmental language we need!  “Socioeconomic benefits of marriage”?  Maybe — as long as you’re not gay.)

(B)  Praise the “benefits of and reasons for abstaining from sexual activity” and then “identify the skills necessary to remain abstinent.”  (Skills?  Such as chastity belts?  Locks on zippers?  Count to ten?  Just say no?  Prayer?)

(C) Redefine “medically accurate information” to mean “information that is scientifically-based and published, where appropriate, in peer-reviewed journals and textbooks.”  (Fine and dandy, but this would change the current’s law’s definition of “medically accurate info” as no longer having to be “supported by the weight of research conducted in compliance with accepted scientific methods” or “recognized as accurate by relevant leading professional organizations or agencies, such as the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, or the American Academy of Pediatrics.”  Of course!  What scientist would actually advocate on behalf of the viable success of abstinence only?  Well, maybe Dr. Nick Riviera from The Simpsons  “Hi everybody!”  The latter group could have been singled out in a petty way, as the American Academy of Pediatrics has gone on the record decrying the misguided approach of abstinence only.)

(D)  On the subject of sleights-of-hand, notice the following editing (strike-outs reflect current law that would be jettisoned by this bill; underlining reflects new language inserted in the bill): Promote Address self-esteem and personal responsibility, positive interpersonal skills, with an emphasis on and healthy relationships,
including friendships, marriage, and romantic and familial relationships
. (Section 17. 118.019 (2) (c)) Address, rather than promote, and personal responsibility rather than, well, anything else really.

(E)  Prevents a health care professional (such as a physician or a nurse or even a midwife) “from providing instruction in human growth and development.”  (I.e., how an egg is fertilized by sperm, much less how said sperm swim their way up to said eggs or how to prevent those little determined bastards from hitting their headlong destination.)

(F) Eliminates the requirement that a student’s parent(s) or guardian(s) be notified if and when a school board does not offer instructional programs pertaining to making whoopie,  (Not entirely unlike “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” this is “Don’t Teach, Don’t Tell,” and if the school board deems it right to cease and desist teaching about human sexuality, development, and contraception, it no longer is the right of the parent/guardian to know what is(n’t) going on at school.  So much for parental control or honoring the family… Family shamily; we got an agenda on our hands!  Or maybe this will be good for families, bringing kiddo and mom and dad together before the computer screen, because now both teens wanting to learn about contraception and parents wanting to know what their teens’ curriculum is will have one recourse: Google.

But, of course, this is not an example of Big Government intruding on the local level or anything like that.  No, no!  This is giving them the tools they need.  To do what?  I dunno…raise the rates of teen pregnancy, infections, and abortions?  Cause that’s what’s gonna happen.  And good luck now finding a Planned Parenthood provider, now that the state blacklisted the organization and stripped its funding.  Hope you live near a border state.

Or, again, just say a prayer, cross your fingers, and hope for the best…

I understand the argument that granting school boards the option of abstinence only curricula seems like empowerment of the local level, but this has more than a whiff of a “states’ rights” philosophy to it.  To take this one step further, why not let a school board create a babies-come-from-storks curriculum in lieu of obstetrics?  What’s next — Intelligent Design?  (God help us, probably.)  The bottom line is this bill will do damage to teenage girls and boys, and it’s a cowardly act of a wolf in sheep’s clothing (but not sheepskin!).  Or if the wolf if the big, bad topic of condoms and the pill — which used to be the tools of empowering women — what are Republicans and the religious right so afraid of?  Not having chlamydia or unwanted pregnancies?  This is another symptom of the GOP’s penchant for being the custodians of nostalgia, to heck with the here and now reality of here and now.  Who needs commonsense approaches to problems when you can just plummet your head in the sand like an ostrich?  Not the state of Wisconsin.

Does this bill create jobs?  Nope.  (Unless family planning contraband goes on the black market.)  Is it an example of a political social issue agenda masquerading as economic and local level-empowering?  You betcha!  Conservatives will crow that this is just payback for what the Democrats did last year, when they still had 15 mins of majority control in the State Legislature and governor’s office.  So to prove that what the Democrats did a year ago was wrong, Republicans this session are doing the same.  Brilliant.  But it’s not the same, and saying so is either naive or disingenuous.  What was passed last year (and remains law til the State Assembly takes up the bill, presumably next session, in 2012) is comprehensive; everything’s on the table, including abstinence.  Insofar as it prevents pregnancy, abstinence can’t be beat.  But this kind of logic is tantamount to saying that there would be no murders if people abstained from killing one another.  No kidding.  Meanwhile back on planet Earth, while we’re waiting for the angels of our better nature to shoo out the evils of our all-too human reality, let’s get real about what does and doesn’t work.  Abstinence only is insultingly oversimplified and a bogus silver bullet in lieu of a more proper, responsible relationship between the elders of society and its youth.  Stress that abstinence til [fill in the blank] is the best bet to invest in a safe, free, and self-fulfilling future, but be real about hormones, sexuality, curiosity — teenagers!  It’s not double-speak to say we encourage you not to do something, but if you do, do it safely…and here’s how.  What is double-speak is having an ulterior motive and lying about it.

Want to really disabuse an impressionable teen about the dangers of sex?  Show the most graphic pictures imaginable about vaginal warts or herpes.  It’s enough to make you want to be a nun.  But of course, that’s too real.  The social agenda of the conservative mindset is some kind of retroactive make-believe.

Oh yeah — and then there’s this: abstinence only doesn’t actually work.  Remember Dubya?  Look across the board, whether in Wisconsin or the nation at large, and what you will find is a pandemic of pregnancy and STD rates where abstinence only (or no sex ed) is on the books.  The United States has the highest teenage pregnancy rate of any developed nation.  And while this is unquestionably a complicated and complex problem, so too should its solutions.  Just saying no is just irresponsible.

Lastly, here is a photo of the bill’s author, Sen. Mary Lazich of New Berlin, suburb in Waukesha County:

And here is one of the current law’s author, Representative Tamara Grigsby of inner-city Milwaukee:


You tell me who’s more real about preventing teen pregnancy.

Update: 11/10/11 — Committee in the State Assembly to have a public hearing on this bill (called AB 337 since it’s the Assembly’s version) on Wednesday, November 16, at 10:00 a.m. in Room 417 North at the State Capitol.  If you can make it to the Capitol to speak against the bill, please do so; individual testimony is both powerful and empowering.  If you can’t — and most of us can’t — please take a moment to email the committee members and urge them to oppose AB 337.  Here’s how.  Click on this link, which should take you to the Wisconsin State Legislature’s website with the Assembly Committee on Education page.  To make this easy, below are the committee members’ email addresses:

Rep.Kestell@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Nass@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Pridemore@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Knudson@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Thiesfeldt@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Wynn@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Pope-Roberts@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Sinicki@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Hintz@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Clark@legis.wisconsin.gov

You are most welcome to copy and paste anything I have scribbled in this post as part of your email.  Or you can simply use this: “AB 337 is a complete repeal of the Healthy Youth Act and then some. The bill would not only take us back to the days of failed “abstinence-only” programs, it also redefines “medically accurate,” bars teaching about contraception as means to prevent pregnancy and STDs, bans doctors and other medical professionals from teaching sex education, removes critical discrimination protection for LGBT students, and more.”  (Taken from Naral.)

If we don’t at least try to fight, we have no right to be angry at anyone other than ourselves.

Updated update: 11/23/11

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