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Abortion-Rights Group Says Sex Education Under Siege

October 3, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Under pressure from Christian conservatives, fewer schools are giving students information about contraception, pregnancy or AIDS, abortion-rights supporters said Tuesday.

Abstinence-only lessons are not enough to prevent teen-age pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and several educators said.

``The reality is a lot of kids aren’t going to choose that,″ said Jerald Newberry, director of sex education programs for Fairfax County, Va., schools. ``So, do we abandon them to ignorance?″

Conservative groups immediately criticized the NARAL survey, arguing that abstinence programs like Sex Respect, used in 1,600 school districts, work.

``Kids want to learn about how, and why, to say no to sex,″ said Caia Mockaitis, spokeswoman for Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo. ``So why don’t we implement public policy that reflects that?″

Communities from California to Louisiana to New York have fought in recent years over condom distribution, AIDS education and teaching abstinence.

Since 1994, five states _ Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas _ have passed laws prohibiting, restricting or discouraging comprehensive sexual education, NARAL’s survey found. Such laws were proposed in a total of 27 states.

North Carolina’s law says abstinence until marriage must be the focus of any sex education course. It requires schools to show parents any materials before they are used. Laws in Oklahoma, Mississippi and Texas are similar.

South Dakota repealed a mandate requiring schools to teach about AIDS.

Twenty-two states require schools to teach some sex education, said NARAL president Kate Michelman. Nineteen states prevent schools from handing out condoms.

But Mockaitis said schools shouldn’t take the lead in sex education.

``Schools should reinforce the values and messages that parents are trying to teach their children,″ she said. ``Instead, they reinforce the messages the culture bombards our children with.″

Newberry noted that his suburban Washington, D.C., district allows parents to opt their children out from a specific lesson, or the entire sex education program. Only 2.5 percent of parents of elementary school students, and 1 percent of high school students’ parents choose that option.

Evelyn Shalom, a health teacher at Ridgewood High School in Bergen County, N.J., said she fears for teen-agers if her state’s legislature chooses to restrict sex education.

``I would, of course, like for young people to abstain from sexual intercourse,″ Shalom said. ``But I also think that students are going to make a whole range of choices. And I want to help them make informed choices.″

Even when schools teach abstinence only, teen-agers still are bombarded by sexual messages from films, TV and advertisements, Shalom said.

``Part of what we’re doing in schools is counteracting the effect of the media and the culture as a whole,″ she said.

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