No Sex, Please, We're Texas
Progressive coalition challenges abstinence-only health textbooks
The handful of conservatives who control the selection of the state's high school health textbooks is putting sexually active teens at risk, a coalition of advocacy groups says. The Protect Our Kids Campaign includes the Texas Freedom Network, which has taken the progressive side's lead in the recurring state textbook wars, and Planned Parenthood as well as groups such as the Texas Association of Ob/Gyns, the Gray Panthers, the Women's Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, and the League of Women Voters.
The group was formed specifically to protest four textbooks being put forward for adoption by the State Board of Education this fall; the first hearing on those textbooks is to be held next week. Glenda Parks, executive director of Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region, said the "abstinence-only" textbooks are a huge step backward from what is currently being taught in classrooms. The textbooks also ignore current state curriculum, which requires teachers in the one-semester health course to teach the "pros" and "cons" of barrier contraceptives.
"If you believe these textbooks, there is only dating and abstinence on the one hand, or marriage and parenthood on the other," Parks said. "There's nothing in between." The SBOE an elected body long dominated by some of the most vocal conservatives in Texas state government pressures the textbook publishers, and the publishers respond, Parks said.
The same publishers that put out responsible textbooks in 1996 are now presenting material completely devoid of discussion of safe sex, says Dan Quinn, communications director of the Texas Freedom Network. The Protect Our Kids Campaign instead proposes that the books contain some combination of abstinence education and a discussion of contraceptive methods.
Peggy Romberg, CEO of the Women's Health and Family Planning Association, says the abstinence-only position not only denies high school students accurate information, but also puts their health at risk in light of rising infection rates for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Parks pointed to one textbook, which provided a "brilliant case" on why HIV was such a tremendous threat to teens but then failed to include any ways to reduce the risk of infection, other than abstinence.
Romberg says the federal government has put almost a billion dollars into grants for abstinence programs since 1996, although no program has been proven to stop teens from having sex. Parks adds that research seems to indicate that abstinence programs do tend to delay teens from having sex but then, when they do, they fail to use contraceptive methods, leaving them more at risk for unplanned pregnancy and STDs.
The State Board of Education has scheduled hearings on the health textbooks for July 14 and Sept. 8. The final vote on textbook adoption is scheduled on Nov. 5.