Officials in Tennessee were recently goaded into creating one of the strictest pro-abstinence sex education laws in the entire country. The bill, which rejects any educator from promoting what could lead to “gateway sexual activity,” was fast-tracked after a classroom sex-toy demonstration
led to an uproar from parents and administrators alike. But detractors have coined it as the “no holding-hands bill,” causing a major controversy in the country music capitol of the world.
According to the Commission on Children and Youth, Tennessee’s pregnancy rate among girls 15-17 has been on the decline since the first abstinence-focused sex-ed courses were put in place in the 1990’s. But it isn’t all good news. As the Guttmacher Institute – a reproductive health research organization out of New York – reports, the state’s teen pregnancy rate
is still among the highest in the U.S. The hope from the new bill is that the push of abstinence will help their at-risk population to make better choices.
But there are many that oppose that idea.
Take Elizabeth Nash, a state issues manager for Guttmacher, who points out the recent shift in abstinence education. She is one member of the large community of health professionals and teenager organizations who feels like comprehensive sex education is the only way to truly reach young people. The institute has found that this approach works, reducing the number of partners and increasing the use of condoms and birth control
. And the concern is that, without proper education, those at such an impressionable age will not have the resources to make informed decisions.
Representative Jim Gotto, who had a hand in sponsoring the legislation, doesn’t buy it.
He argues that the new bill isn’t simply abstinence-only
, but rather that the curriculum needs to be abstinence-focused
. In the wording of the law, it isn’t a problem if you bring contraception into the discussion, as long as it isn’t represented as a first option; and as long as you aren’t demonstrating any sexual behaviors.
Despite that outlook, and the aggressive nature of the critics’ attack on the new bill, the real issue could be for teachers and the school system. If an incident occurs that displays any sexual conduct, a parent can sue and a fine can be imposed of at least $500. This could open a serious can of worms, with the line of decency being blurred subjectively. And with any legal government mandate, you want as little room for subjectivity as possible.
But for now, the battle rages on. Here’s hoping that despite the differences, the common goal of reduced pregnancy rates becomes the larger issue, and we tone down our ire about we got there.
Press, LUCAS L. JOHNSON II Associated. "Critics Blast 'No Holding-Hands Bill'"ABC News
. ABC News Network, 24 June 2012. Web. 29 June 2012. <http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/critics-blast-tennessees-holding-hands-bill-16638345>.