November 7, 2011 — The Wisconsin Senate last week voted 17-15 to approve a bill (SB 237) that would allow schools to teach abstinence-only sex education courses, effectively undermining a law enacted last year that requires sex education programs to include instruction on contraception, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The measure now goes to the Republican-led Assembly (Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 11/2).
The current law does not require Wisconsin schools to teach sex education, but those that do must address the benefits, side effects, and correct use of contraceptives and other methods to prevent sexually transmitted infections and pregnancies. Parents may opt to have their children excluded from the lessons, and the law does not alter a 2007 state law requiring teachers to stress abstinence until marriage as the best method for avoiding pregnancy and STIs (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/8/2010).
The bill, introduced by state Sen. Mary Lazich (R), would require public school teachers to teach that abstinence is the only reliable way of preventing pregnancy and STIs. It would require that schools discuss parental responsibility and the socioeconomic benefits of marriage (O'Brien, Reuters, 11/3). The bill recommends that schools address a list of other topics, which does not include birth control. However, schools would not be prohibited from discussing birth control.
Lawmakers added an amendment that aims to ensure that students are not discriminated against based on sexual orientation, race, gender or whether they are sexually active. The Senate also approved an amendment that would require courses to cover information about STIs.
Democratic lawmakers called the bill irresponsible and shortsighted because it denies students the comprehensive information they need to make responsible choices. Republicans rejected Democratic amendments that would have required lessons to be medically accurate and include information about birth control (Spicuzza, Oshkosh Northwestern, 11/3).