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Comprehensive Sex Ed Proposed in Response to Texas Abortion Debate

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Texas has one of the highest teen birth rates in the country.  According to a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, in 2008, Texan teens had 85 pregnancies per 1,000 women 15-19 years old.

And while protests and hearings continue around Senate Bill 1 — the bill that would limit access to abortions in Texas — some Democratic state lawmakers have filed two bills that would make changes to health and sex education.

But lawmakers who want to change sex education policies are facing an uphill battle: Gov. Rick Perry, and the State Board of Education

Under both bills, abstinence only education would still be the main lesson. Senate Bill 25 says if school districts teach more than abstinence-only sex ed, it must be evidence based, or recognized as medically accurate and verified by research.

Senate Bill 26, filed by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D- Harris County, also requires evidence based sex education, but it would require school districts to teach comprehensive sex education.

Sen. Ellis says it would also teach about parent teen communication, “…while helping teens to develop healthy life skills like goal setting, decision making and evaluating the consequences of decisions made today and values such as self confidence and respect.”

But not everyone agrees a change will help. Jonathan Saenz with the group Texas Values says the steady decline of teen pregnancies over the years means abstinence-only education is working.

“Since 1991, when Texas started a policy of strong, abstinence education, the teen birth rates have decreased 33 percent. So Texas is heading the right direction and so I’m not sure that it’s necessary for us to go with the different direction that is appears the legislature has proposed," Saenz said.

Since Gov. Rick Perry controls which bills are added to the roll call, Saenz says it’s unlikely the bills will receive a hearing, or come up for a vote. But Senator Ellis says he’s working with other lawmakers to turn the bills into amendments that could be added to SB 1—the bill that restricts abortions.

“If we can find a way to make them germane, we’re certainly going to ask for a vote," Ellis said.

The other way to change sex education policies in Texas public schools is through the state Board of Education. Every decade or so, the board adopts new curriculum standards. The next time the board will adopt new health standards is 2017, 13 years after the last time it adopted new health textbooks.

"These books are already getting pretty old, But the biggest problem is they’re abstinence only. There isn’t a shred of information about birth control and other form of disease prevention and pregnancy prevention," Dan Quinn with the Texas Freedom Network said.

The Texas Freedom Network Tuesday is planning to deliver a petition of more than 5,000 signatures to Gov. Perry’s office asking him to add sex education legislation on the call for this special session. 

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