Only 22 states and Washington, D.C., require comprehensive sex education, and only 13 of those require the information is medically accurate. One Arizona school district is taking its statewide abstinence-only education policy a step further by adding a moral plea about sex and abortion to its biology textbooks.
This crusade began in late 2014, when the Alliance Defending Freedom — a religious and conservative legal advocacy group — bombarded a Gilbert, Arizona, public school board meeting to demand the school get rid of an honors biology textbook that mentions abortion and contraception, MSNBC reported in November. The group requested several pages containing information about sex, reproduction and abortion be removed completely as they failed to comply with an Arizona law requiring schools to present childbirth and adoption as preferable alternatives to abortion.
The only thing that stopped the district from removing the pages of Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections? The action may have violated copyright laws.
Instead, they did this:
Superintendent Christina Kishimoto told MSNBC in 2014 that biology teachers would seek a solution this summer. Author Suzanne Young, the parent of a Gilbert Public School student, shared the "fix" on Wednesday: A sticker placed inside the back cover of the Campbell textbook stating that the school supports "promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion," "promoting abstinence as the most effective way to eliminate the potential for unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases," and encourages students to "speak with your parents" about any further questions they might have.
While Kishimoto told MSNBC that this is "the best course of action" and that all involved are "pleased with the collaboration and completion of this matter," the whole community is hardly in agreement.
"The public school district has taken an educational text and used it to teach morality," Young told BuzzFeed on Thursday. "It assumes that all students have supportive parents to talk to and shuts down further discussion. It shames and isolates girls before supplying them with information and biological facts."
What's more, the content with which the Alliance Defending Freedom took issue is medically accurate information, as one would expect from a biology textbook. MSNBC published the pages in November, which include the definition of contraception ("the deliberate prevention of pregnancy"), oral contraceptives (pills that "contain synthetic estrogen and/or progesterone"), abortion ("the termination of a pregnancy in process") and — seemingly importantly — an explanation of the "principles of embryonic development."
"For the school to withhold or manipulate" this biological information, Young said, "is completely irresponsible, dangerous and ineffective."
Studies back up Young's perspective. Research has demonstrated that educating children about sex has no correlation with an earlier onset of sexual activity, and abstinence-only sex education has actually been linked to higher teen pregnancy rates and proven otherwise ineffective.
Raising Arizona: Arizona requires abstinence-only education in schools, but states with such mandates typically have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. As Mic's Matt Essert reported in 2014, "teenagers who received comprehensive sex education were 60% less likely to get pregnant than someone who received abstinence-only education."
As Last Week Tonight's John Oliver said earlier this month in a segment about sexual education in schools, "There is no way we'd allow any other academic program to consistently fail to prepare students for life after school. And human sexuality, unlike calculus, is something you actually need to know about for the rest of your life."
It remains to be seen whether other Gilbert parents will counter the district's choice, but this case is an example of just how easily students are denied the right to basic, biological information in this country — and why it's crucial to push back on this reality.