Roundup: Sex Education, Impending HHS Regulation and Changing Abortion Demographics


Two Takes on Sex Education

I was confused by an editorial in the Washington Times today on the state of sex education in Washington, D.C.  Brian Debose tries to criticize the District’s new sex education policy but simply does not do a very good job of it.  Debose first lays out some of the specific goals of the curriculum: 

… by second grade (ages 7-8) children should know the physical
differences and similarities of girls and boys. By grade three (ages
8-9) they should know that people come in all shapes, sizes and colors
"but are equally special, including those that are disabled."

In the fourth grade (ages 9-10), it becomes clear that school
officials are not quite sure what to do. The standards lose focus on
how much information to give adolescents about sexuality and in what
manner it should be taught. Teachers are encouraged to tell the
children to talk to their parents or "other trusted adults" as they are
learning about the changes their bodies will undertake over the next
three years. By fifth grade students will be learning about sexually
transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, and the behaviors that place
them at risk. Teachers also will be discussing sexual identity with
children. But this "education" could in and of itself be putting
children at risk.

All of this sounds pretty reasonable to me.  The policy allows teachers latitude to address specific problems his or her class or school are dealing with and also encourages parents to become involved.  Students are learning at a proper age, 10-11 years old, about STDs, including HIV/AIDS — which Debose cites in the opening paragraph as becoming a problem in the D.C. area for the 20-29 demographic, an age group that did not benefit from these new, one-year old, and more comprehensive sex education standards. The most baffling aspect of Debose’s short editorial is his central argument:

Trying to establish a rigid health education curriculum is something
D.C. schools have been struggling with for years, chiefly because
health ed has become sex ed and administrators exclude parental
involvement every step of the way.

Excludes parental involvement every step of the way?  Just four sentences earlier Debose clearly wrote that under the new guidelines teachers "are encouraged to tell the
children to talk to their parents or ‘other trusted adults’ as they are
learning about the changes their bodies will undertake over the next
three years." 

The editorial ends several confusing sentences later.  Whatever Debose was trying to argue, he is right that parents needs to be involved in their children’s sexuality education.  The best comprehensive sex education curricula explicitly encourage involvement by parents and include provisions for parents to exempt their children from sex education classes for any reason, giving parents ultimate control over their child’s sex education.  Yesterday’s HuffingtonPost.com article by Susan Kell-Stamerra makes a good case for improving upon failed abstinece-only programs.  The opening of the article echoes a very popular piece by the Rev. Dr. Veazey that appeared here recently in its exclaimed agreement that we should be teaching our children age-appropriate sex education.  Kelley-Stamerra welcomes the help to teach important lessons from her children’s teachers:

What clear-thinking parent doesn’t want their child to learn, in the
most thorough manner possible, "how to say no to unwanted sexual
advances" and to understand "…methods of preventing sexual
assault…" or "avoiding behavior that impairs one’s judgment?"

Please, please, someone help me in this gravely important and
serious task. Must I spend all of my time at home not just helping with
their homework, but constantly reminding them of what are "good
touches" and "bad touches?"

And she also reminds us of the same grim reality Rev. Dr. Veazey recalled so vividly, a reality that many of us would rather ignore but would do so to the detriment of some children:

Let’s not forget that some of those "touchers," unfortunately, are
parents or caregivers. Is it wrong, then, to have schools provide some
instruction to the kids whose parents or babysitters might be the
predators themselves? It’s arguably the absolute-best measure of all!
Teach them all we can so that we don’t find the public schools in the
same clean-up mess that we have found the many Dioceses across the
country – paying for lack of information and reliance upon archaic
systems that inevitably led to unspeakable abuses.

 

Your Doctor’s Rights vs. Your Rights

Deborah Kotz, of the US News and World Report‘s women’s health beat, has a great writeup of the impending HHS "conscience" regulation that includes a short interview with Judy Waxman, vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center.  This is perhaps the most sqirm-inducing question and answer:

Could a woman be denied an abortion at, say, a Planned Parenthood clinic that accepts federal funds for family planning services?

It’s possible, but I’m more concerned about what’s going to happen in
doctor’s offices. The rule is so broad that it includes not only
physicians but nurses, lab technicians, receptionists, and anyone else
who works there. For instance, a receptionist could theoretically
refuse to schedule an appointment for a woman wishing to have an IUD
inserted because the device may cause the expulsion of a fertilized
egg, which the receptionist considers to be abortion. A maintenance
worker may refuse to clean rooms used for abortions

We have much more on the proposed regulation and encourage you to voice your thoughts and concerns today as the public comment period ends this Thursday, September 25th.  

Interestingly the Australian state of Victoria is currently debating the merits and demerits of a broad provider conscience clause as well.

 

Guttmacher Abortion Study Reveals Demographic and Racial Disparities

Emily has a great review of a study released today by the Guttmacher Institute and you should give it a read.  The LA Times, the Washington Post and Newsweek also took a look at the study and, in the "first comprehensive analysis since 1974 of demographic characteristics of women who have abortions," notice a "dramatic shift" in the demographics of abortion:

Although the overall U.S. abortion rate is at its lowest level since
1974, the drop has been far more dramatic for whites than for African
Americans, who in 2004 had abortions at five times the rate of white
women, according to a report released Monday.

The abortion rate for Latinas was about three times that of whites.

In the LA Times Claire D. Brindis, a professor of pediatrics and health policy at UC
San Francisco and co-director of the Bixby Center for Global
Reproductive Health, commented on the racial disparity:

"Many of these women are low-income women who tend to have a higher
rate of unintended pregnancy," said Brindis, who was not associated
with the report. "Oftentimes, living in poverty they experience so many
other challenges in their lives that they don’t always know that
they’re eligible for family planning services or have transportation to
services."

Laurie Rubiner, vice president for public policy at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in the Washington Post that poverty and lack of health insurance is partly to blame:

"Birth control is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Unfortunately there’s a large number of uninsured people in this
country, and if you are uninsured you are less likely to have access to
affordable health care, including affordable birth control." 

In the Newsweek article Rachel Jones of the Guttmacher Institute echoes this criticism and says that we need to do a better job, in general, of supporting adult women:

Researchers cannot fully explain the reasons behind this trend. Some
think it indicates a kind of oversight: Public health initiatives have
focused on reducing pregnancy and abortions among teenagers but haven’t
put as much thought into how to educate older groups.

But
once they’re out of high school and on their own, many women don’t have
an adequate support system when it comes to reproductive health. "We’ve
done a lot for adolescents and teens but need to expand those efforts
to reach adult women," says Jones. "We haven’t taken care of women in
their 20s." Experts say a lack of health insurance, more common among
adults than teens, and access to affordable contraceptives are
significant factors in causing abortion rates to stay at a level higher
than that of the 1970s among older women. "You could full-well know
that the pill or IUDs are effective [birth control],
but if you don’t have health insurance or don’t have access to
affordable family planning, that’s not going to help you much," says
Jones.

All of this seems to confirm the sense that we’re in increasingly difficult economic environment in which to contemplate starting a family.  I highly recommend reading and sharing Anna Clark’s piece, just up today, that looks at the "brutal economic environment and longstanding workplace,
insurance and government policies that don’t support those who want to build
families." 

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