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Judge: Calif. Law Does Not Permit Teaching Abstinence as the Only Safe Way To Prevent Pregnancy

Judge: Calif. Law Does Not Permit Teaching Abstinence as the Only Safe Way To Prevent Pregnancy

May 13, 2015 — A Fresno County, Calif., judge has ruled that the state's law (SB 71) on sexuality education does not allow school districts to teach students that abstinence is the only safe way to protect against sexually transmitted infections and prevent pregnancy, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

According to the Chronicle, the decision applies only to the Clovis Unified School District, but it is the first ruling that interprets the state's sexuality education law.


In California, school districts are required to teach age-appropriate sexuality education programs. Districts must teach students, beginning in seventh grade, that abstinence is the only certain way an individual can prevent pregnancy and avoid contracting STIs. However, districts must also teach medically accurate information about other methods of contraception, including all FDA-approved contraceptives.

In November 2012, a group of parents sued the Clovis school district, alleging that sexuality education courses used videos and texts that had minimal discussion of contraceptives, no mention of contraceptives or claimed contraceptives were ineffective. Further, the parents said the materials focused on abstinence.

The district revised its policies, and the parents dismissed their suit in February 2014.

Ruling Details

In the ruling, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Donald Black held that the district should pay the parents' attorneys' fees, saying that their suit had led the school district to revise its ninth grade courses so they were compliant with the law.

He ruled that the law prohibits districts from indoctrinating students about having to abstain from sex until marriage. Black said, "Access to medically and socially appropriate sexual education is an important public right."

Black in the ruling noted that one video in the course had compared a woman who had had sex to a dirty shoe, while other videos "perpetuated sexual orientation bias" and promoted the stance of "one man, one woman, one life."


Phyllida Burlingame, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which took part in the suit, said that as the ruling was the first to interpret the state sexuality education law, it should make schools aware that "young people need complete, accurate health information required by law." She noted a 2011 University of California-San Francisco study that found compliance with the law varied among districts.

According to Burlingame, the ruling marks the first time "abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula have been found to be medically inaccurate" (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/12).