Rep. Mark Strama and Sen. Kirk Watson chose to recognize Pro-Life Lobby Day by introducing a “Prevention Works Act” aimed at reducing abortions by reducing unwanted pregnancies. Wait…so how would this work, exactly? The press release for the Watson and Strama bill claims that “Prevention Works is a real pro-life bill. The surest way to prevent the termination of an unwanted pregnancy is to prevent the pregnancy.” Who knew? The bill has two parts: one is to fully implement a bill passed two sessions ago by Sen. John Carona which instructed the state to participate in a Medicaid Women’s Health Program. That program pays for, along all kinds of medical care, family planning for poor women aged 18 and older. Although the state is able to draw down a 9 to 1 federal match, far fewer women have been served than expected, which means the state of Texas has been leaving federal money on the table. (Under-the-radar history: some lawmakers, afraid that Planned Parenthood would be a beneficiary of the funds, put up roadblocks that prevented the state from fully participating. Ultimately, fewer poor women had access to contraceptives.) Strama and Watson think fully participating in the Women’s Health Program could save taxpayers as much as $300 million in health costs over five years. (It costs $180 for a year of contraceptives and $8,500 for the first year of health costs associated with a Medicaid birth.) The bill also calls upon school districts to notify parents about their sex education curriculum, and to base that curriculum on “medically accurate information.” “Prevention Works does not mandate that schools teach contraception. It simply ensures that students receive complete, accurate information when schools do teach about contraception,” the Strama/Watson press release states. “Texas has one of the highest teen birth rates in the country. And polls show that 90 percent of Texas parents favor teaching public school students age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education.” I looked up the bill to see if I could determine what would be considered “medically accurate.” Apparently, school districts will have to get their information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, etc., etc. It may surprise you to learn that those groups have not been relied upon by school districts in Texas for sex ed information. According to a report issued Tuesday by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, “94 percent of Texas school districts do not give students any human sexuality instruction beyond abstinence,” particularly information about avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. According to the report, Texas students also do not learn about the stages of pregnancy — something that might be of interest to the proponents of the ultrasound bill. State law and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (curriculum standards) actually call for this stuff to be covered, but there’s been a breakdown between Austin and the classroom. Meanwhile, Texas leads the nation in federal abstinence education dollars — spending $18 million in 2007 alone. The Freedom Network’s report includes some examples of what that bought us in terms of curriculum: — 40 percent of Texas school districts use materials with scientifically-proven inaccuracies about condoms, essentially discouraging their use by dramatically overstating failure rates. — gender stereotypes; for instance, teaching that boys have no control over themselves and girls are entirely responsible for sexual behavior. One program used in 12 districts around the state suggests that girls invite sexual assault by wearing provocative clothing. — heavy reliance on religious reasons for abstinence, including biblical citations. We should be thankful, I suppose, that some kids don’t get any kind of sex ed whatsoever. One superintendent reported his district didn’t bother with sex ed because most of his students “live on a farm or have animals they feed and care for. They get a pretty good sex education from their animals.” At least his students won’t have nightmares from reading this in abstinence-only class: “WARNING! Going on this ride could change your life forever, result in poverty, heartache, disease and even DEATH.” So what did we get for that $18 million in federal money? Here’s what a survey by the Center for Disease Control found in a 2007 study: –52.9 of Texas students reported having engaged in sexual intercourse, compared to 47.8 nationwide. –38.7 percent of Texas students said they were currently sexually active, compared to 35 percent nationwide –17.1 percent of Texas students claimed four or more sexual partners; nationwide, only 14.9 percent claimed that many partners. –43.6 percent didn’t use a condom during their last instance of sexual intercourse, compared to 38.5 percent of students nationally. Sure, it’s only $18 million a year, but I’m not convinced we’re getting such a great return on our investment.
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