February 24, 2012 — The Utah House on Wednesday voted 45-28 to approve a bill (HB 363) that would allow public schools to eliminate sex education instruction but require schools that include it to use abstinence-only curricula, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
House lawmakers passed an amended version of the bill after debating whether to permit instruction about contraception and sexually transmitted infections (Schencker, Salt Lake Tribune, 2/22). Under the bill, curricula must stress abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage as the only reliable methods of preventing STIs. The bill now proceeds to the Senate.
Under current state law, school districts may set their own standards for sex education programs within state limits. According to the Utah Office of Education website, the law allows instruction about contraception and STI prevention but requires teachers to "present a strong abstinence message." In addition, parents must sign "opt in" permission slips for their children to participate (Romboy, Deseret News, 2/22).
A previous version of the bill would have barred "instruction in the advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices." Lawmakers adjusted the language to prohibit schools that continue to teach sex education from instructing students on "the use of contraceptive methods or devices" (Salt Lake Tribune, 2/22). Other amendments would restrict instruction on intercourse and erotic behavior; prohibit advocacy of sex outside of marriage, contraception and homosexuality; and require schools to develop lessons with input from parents.
Rep. Bill Wright (R), the bill's sponsor, said the current law is not comprehensive enough and that parents should be the ones to teach their children about sex (Deseret News, 2/22).
Eleven Republicans joined with the chamber's 17 Democrats in opposing the bill. Rep. Brian King (D), who voted against the bill, said, "We owe it to our sons and daughters and to their future partners not to stick our heads in the sand" (Salt Lake Tribune, 2/22).