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Abstinence-Only Education to Accompany Abortion Ban in North Dakota

The Republican-led State Senate in North Dakota has received a lot of publicity lately, as it passed the two most stringent bills limiting access to abortions of any state in the country.

The legislation, awaiting the governor’s signature, would essentially ensure that no female in North Dakota would be able to procure an abortion outside of the fifth to sixth week of pregnancy, providing she was aware of the pregnancy by that point.

And so, as common sense (and research) dictates, in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies in high risk teens, sexual education and access to family planning resources in the state should be improved. A measure with exactly this goal was underway via a comprehensive sex ed program organized by North Dakota State University (NDSU) and Planned Parenthood.

Unfortunately, the grant for the voluntary sex ed program was frozen this year after abortion opponents attempted to derail it. North Dakota’s attorney general gave NDSU permission to continue the program last month, but as common sense doesn't operate within the North Dakota Senate, a group of legislators is attempting to introduce a bill that would limit the scope of sex education programs throughout the state.

The broad language of this new legislation would prohibit government funds from being used to “contract with, or provide financial or other support to individuals, organizations, or entities performing, inducing, referring for, or counseling in favor of, abortions.” The bill even includes a specific reference to “any institution under the control of the State Board of Education” ensuring that NDSU would not be able to move forward in conjunction with Planned Parenthood to provide comprehensive sex education to high risk young adults.

The real question brought up by all of this legislation — especially that which limits access to comprehensive sex education — is: what exactly is the goal?

If the goal is to actually limit the number of unwanted pregnancies, and by extension abortions, then according to multiple reliable studies over the years, the legislation being passed will not achieve its goal. Despite it’s recent decrease, the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. What seems to be helping it drop? Access to accurate sex education and birth control.

According to a recent study by the University of Minnesota, when provided with access to counseling, support and comprehensive sex education, teenagers reported having more family connectedness, and more confidence to refuse unwanted sexual advances. They also reported a higher use of condoms, and other birth control measures.

This stands in stark contrast to the results of abstinence-only sex ed programs, which spread misinformation to teens regarding STDs, sex, and their bodies. Thanks to the junk science put forth in these courses — such as a California course that taught teens that STDs could be cured with “plenty of sleep” — a full 60% of teens report not using birth control because they underestimate its effectiveness. Additionally, 70% of teens around the country report being sexually active by age 19. The abstinence-only approach has never worked, in religious communities — a full 80% of Evangelicals report having sex at least once before marriage — or anywhere else.

So, dare I ask: What are pro-abstinence-only lawmakers thinking?

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