Updated Feb. 8, 4 p.m.: The “Reproductive Health Education and Services Amendment,” designated as HB 215 in the 2017 legislative session, died in the House Education Committee Monday. The vote was 21-2 along party lines.
Though the result of the vote was the same as 2016, Rep. Brian King’s Communications Director Elizabeth Converse said Wednesday the conversation in the committee had an entirely different tone from last year with many Republicans recognizing the compromises that were contained in the bill and the fact that Utah schools do need better reproductive health education.
Southern Utah Rep. V. Lowry Snow is a Republican member of the House Education Committee. Snow voted no on the bill.
ST. GEORGE — Salt Lake City Rep. Brian King is introducing legislation that will go before the House Education Committee Monday afternoon that aims to allow for schools to provide more comprehensive reproductive health education.
In simple terms, King’s “Reproductive Health Education and Services Amendments,” designated as HB 215 in the 2017 legislative session, aims to amend the current law to create the ability for students to have the option of a more comprehensive reproductive health education in school, including the ability for teachers to discuss such topics as contraception and same-gender relationships without fear of legal recourse.
King introduced a similar bill in 2016 which died in the House Education Committee. This year, with some slight tweaks to the bill, King said he hopes to garner support from his Republican colleagues.
At the beginning of each school year, most parents receive a large amount of paperwork they have to fill out and sign, including a waiver stating whether they want to opt their students in to reproductive health education.
One of the most important things King’s bill does is make sure that parents receive a clear outline of the reproductive health education their children will be receiving, he said, including having the waiver parents receive and sign be written in large font.
“(We) are making sure parents know what they are opting in to,” King said.
In addition to clearly understanding what their children are being taught about human sexuality, making the curriculum easily available to parents allows them to engage in important conversations with their children about their bodies, hormones and sex.
This is something that will give parents more control over their child’s education, King said.
Though the bill doesn’t disregard an abstinence-based approach to sexual education — in fact it still emphasizes that abstinence is the only way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections — it does take a more realistic approach to human sexuality.
The ability to teach a more comprehensive reproductive health curriculum would provide young adults with evidence-based, age-appropriate tools to understanding their bodies, their sexuality and their mental health as it relates to their sexuality, King said.
In the bill “age appropriate” is defined as “topics, messages, and teaching methods suitable to a particular age or age group based on developing cognitive, emotional, and behavioral capacity typical for the age or age group.”
And “evidence-based” is defined as “information that is evaluated using rigorous research design.”
King said that the courses would stress body autonomy, boundaries, not judging based on appearance and clearly define what consent is as well as provide a basic understanding of contraception, pregnancy, STI’s and sexually transmitted diseases.
“When kids get this information the overall effect is that kids consciously choose to delay initiation of sexual activities,” King said.
Another key component of the bill is that it proposes to remove the provisions that make it a criminal offense to talk about or at least respond to questions about contraceptives and abortion.
The way the law is currently drafted, King said, teachers are unable to even answer questions about anything beyond abstinence-only education without fear of repercussions from the law.
King said he hopes to see the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions drop but that you can’t have a reasonable discussion about what constitutes a healthy sexual relationship if the law only allows for a teacher to talk about abstinence.
Similarly, the bill proposes to remove language from the current law that makes it criminal to talk about same-gender attraction and LGBTQ relationships.
King said it is being recognized more and more that people don’t choose their sexual preference, adding that LQBTQ issues shouldn’t be stigmatized or spoken of in a disparaging manner.
King’s 2016 bill was killed in the House Education Committee, falling on party lines. This year King will try to reach across the aisle and move the bill out of committee and onto the floor for a full vote, he said.
Rep. Jon Stanard, R-District 62 in Southern Utah, said that he hadn’t looked over the bill in much depth, but from what he could tell it wasn’t too substantially different from last year.
Stanard said the message he is getting from his constituents – a message he said he agrees with – is that most parents like the way reproductive health education law is currently defined.
“We want to be careful to encourage abstinence only before marriage,” Stanard said.
Stanard is not on the House Education Committee, so he will not be involved in the committee vote, but he said that if he were on the committee, he would be very unlikely to vote for it.
King said last year was pretty hostile, adding that people are skeptical. Still, he hopes to bring what he called “common sense measures” forward that would give Utah students access to better information about their reproductive health.
“I feel passionately about it,” King said.
King’s bill will be heard before the House Education Committee Monday afternoon.
- Read the bill: 2017 HB 215 Reproductive Health Education and Services Amendments
- Contact legislators:
- Bill sponsor: Brian King.
- Southern Utah Sens. Ralph Okerlund, Don Ipson, Evan Vickers and David Hinkins | Listing of all senators.
- Southern Utah Reps. Walt Brooks, Merrill Nelson, Brad Last, John Westwood, Mike Noel, V. Lowry Snow and Jon Stanard | Listing of all members of the House of Representatives
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