March 2016 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
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Oklahoma Bill Would Require Anti-Abortion Instruction in Schools

On Tuesday, March 1, 2016, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed House Bill (HB) 2797, a bill that would require all public high schools in the state to “clearly and consistently teach that abortion kills a living human being and is against public policy.” HB 2797, introduced by Rep. Ann Coody (R-Lawton), would create a new and permanent fund entitled the "Public Education on the Humanity of the Unborn Child Fund," and require the state Department of Education to “establish, operate and maintain a program to educate students in grades nine through twelve about the humanity of a child in utero.” Oklahoma has the third highest teen birth rate in the nation and there were a total of 5,401 cases of chlamydia among young people ages 15–19 reported in the state in 2013. Though there are no statewide sexuality education statute requirements, the bill prohibits funds being used “to finance programs or materials on human sexuality.” The bill passed the House by a vote of 64-12, with a quarter of members skipping the vote.

Oklahoma’s current laws related to school-based sexual health are limited to requiring the stressing of abstinence is schools provide sex education, and requiring public schools provide HIV/AIDS education for 45 minutes twice throughout a student’s school years. Such education must specifically teach that:

  1. engaging in homosexual activity, promiscuous sexual activity, intravenous drug use, or contact with contaminated blood products is now known to be primarily responsible for contact with the AIDS virus;
  2. avoiding the activities specified above is the only method of preventing the spread of the virus;
  3. artificial means of birth control are not a certain means of preventing the spread of the AIDS virus and reliance on such methods puts a person at risk for exposure to the disease; and
  4. sexual intercourse, with or without condoms, with any person testing positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) antibodies, or any other person infected with HIV, places that individual in a high-risk category for developing AIDS.

In an interview with Fusion after the vote, Representative Emily Virgin (D-Norman) expressed her frustration; “If the intent [of the Humanity of the Unborn Child Act] is truly to educate children and prevent abortion, then we know how to do that. Comprehensive sex ed and access to contraception reduce unwanted pregnancy.” At least three bills allowing for more information on human sexuality in schools have died in committee so far this year, yet the HB 2797 anti-abortion bill continues to advance. Two of Rep. Virgin’s bills, HB 2721 and HB 1507, would allow, but not require, medically accurate information designed to reduce unintended pregnancy and sexual violence awareness and prevention programs, respectively. Rep. George Young (D-Oklahoma City) introduced HB 2959, a bill providing training to parents on how to talk to their children about “pregnancy prevention, abstinence practices, prevention of sexually transmitted infections and diseases, and safe and healthy relationships,” also failed to advance in committee.

Tulsa World reports that Rep. Virgin offered an amendment to require sex education as part of the anti-abortion curriculum, but it was quickly tabled. The same happened with an amendment offered by Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City) to include information about contraception in the bill. The Senate referred HB 2797 to the rules and then appropriations committees.

A fiscal impact statement prepared by the state Department of Education estimates it would cost up to $160,000 to develop materials for the program and that implementing it at each school district would cost about $10,000 per high school, or $4.78 million total. Given the state’s anticipated $1.3 billion deficit next fiscal year, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Sen. A.J. Griffin (R-Guthrie), has stated, "the goal is to alleviate any fiscal impacts to our school districts." If funding requirement is amended, the new anti-abortion instruction requirement could still advance without designated funding. If passed before the session adjourns on May 27th at 5pm, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin is likely to sign the legislation which would go into effect November 1, 2016.