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