Friday, June 11, 2010

Support students' right to medically accurate information

Guest Blogger

by Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale
General Minister and President, Christian Association at the University of Pennsylvania

In a time when incivility is all too present in public discourse and lawmaking gets bogged down in divisiveness, some Republican and Democratic representatives in Harrisburg are finding common ground on a difficult topic - how to protect the sexual health of our young people. We believe as a clergy that our society has a moral imperative to provide medically accurate information to our young adults in order to keep them safe. House Bill 1163, the Healthy Youth Act, holds great promise in that it will not only teach them to abstain from premature sexual behavior, but will also dispel misleading stereotypes and correct the misinformation that harms our young people. With one in four teen girls already infected with sexually transmitted infections, this education is sorely needed.

We minister to families, oftentimes through their times of struggle, and we know firsthand the difficulties some young people have face growing up, especially through the teen years. Passage of this bill will help reduce the ignorance that contributes to the 23,000 teen pregnancies annually in this state and potentially reduce the number of abortions in rate. Moreover, the immediate passage of HB 1163 will help families and young adults in their decision-making processes by giving them the necessary tools.

With bipartisan support, the legislators have developed a bill to maximize the freedom of school boards and parents by allowing local school boards to determine their own sex education curriculum, as long as it is grounded in scientific and evidence based data. In addition, it allows parents to opt out should they choose to provide the sex education to their children themselves. In our view this develops a win-win legislative package without compromising our youth.

At no cost to the state and little cost to local schools, our legislators have found a way to do the right thing for Pennsylvania families. This is something all of us can support. It sends a message that in this state, we care about our young people enough to protect them. And that is what family values are all about.

Take action: tell your representative to vote YES on the Healthy Youth Act!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

ACLU Lobbies for Sex Education, Commonsense

Perhaps it’s axiomatic to assert that all is political in the world of politics. But, the health of our young people should not and cannot be something we allow to fall victim to politicization.

On May 24, the ACLU joined Women’s Way and Planned Parenthood to lobby in support of Rep. Chelsa Wagner’s Healthy Youth Act (HB 1163) – a comprehensive sex education bill aimed at reducing teen pregnancy rates and alleviating a health crisis in which 1 in 4 young women is afflicted with a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Accompanying the lobbying effort was a press conference held in the Capitol Rotunda at lunch time, in which Rep. Wagner and a Professor of Pediatric Medicine, Dr. Rollyn Ornstein, spoke passionately about the dire need to pass this comprehensive legislation.

Wagner’s bill would ensure that the state adopts a minimum standard for teaching sex education and presents students with facts regarding sexuality. That the bill needs to be passed is a no-brainer. Right now Pennsylvania does not maintain any standard concerning the teaching of sex education, and many districts still adhere to antiquated abstinence-only-until-marriage programs – programs that have been proven ineffective, are inherently naïve, and serve to sustain a population of young people that are uneducated regarding sexual health.

Throughout the day, lobbyists from the three aforementioned organizations spoke to numerous legislators from both parties and urged them to vote in favor of the bill. Each of us took turns dispelling myths surrounding comprehensive sex education, corroborating the existing evidence in support of it and providing anecdotal information to illustrate the facts. Nearly every legislator with whom we spoke agreed that teen pregnancy and the transmission of STIs are problems that merit action.

However, at least to some, the notion of improving the health of our children through public education is not so commonsensical. Even though 83% of Pennsylvanians support the teaching of comprehensive sex education in schools, some legislators refuse to agree that schools should play a role in educating students about healthy choices. We heard repeatedly that parents should be teaching their children about sex. While few would disagree, it is also imperative that schools teach comprehensive sex education to supplement what students learn at home, reinforce healthy behaviors taught by parents, ensure students are provided with up-to-date and medically accurate information, and create communicative pathways through which students can more openly speak to their parents about sex.

The bottom line is that this bill is crucial and not something intended to engender political rancor between two opposing sides. Instead, this bill seeks to offer a commonsense solution to something both sides identify as a problem. More importantly, it will guarantee that students are endowed with real, factual education. The more factual information young people receive about ways to remain healthy and safe, the healthier and safer they’ll be.

-Adam in Philly