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Abortion Rights Group Says Sex Ed Programs Under Siege

October 3, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Under pressure from Christian conservatives, more states require schools to teach biased or incomplete sex education lessons, putting students’ health at risk, an abortion rights group contended today.

The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League accused conservatives of worsening the problem of teen-age pregnancy by promoting abstinence-only sex education, and preventing schools from giving information on contraceptives.

``Our children’s health and safety is being offered up at the altar of right-wing zealotry,″ said NARAL President Kate Michelman.

But Christian conservatives immediately criticized the group’s report, saying polls indicate young people want information about abstinence.

``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?″

Programs that ``promote contraceptives and condoms and this safe-sex myth to teens have been an absolute failure,″ Mockaitis said.

Communities from Southern California to Louisiana to New York have fought in recent years over condom distribution, AIDS 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 said. 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’re used.

Oklahoma’s law is similar. And South Dakota repealed a state mandate requiring schools to teach about AIDS.

But teaching abstinence is not enough, said Jerald Newberry, who runs sex education programs for the Fairfax County, Va., public schools. It must be combined with contraceptive information to protect young peoples’ health, he said.

``Clearly, abstinence is the best choice,″ Newberry said. ``The reality is a lot of kids aren’t going to choose that. So do we abandon them to ignorance?″

The 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, Newberry said.

NARAL also criticized 19 states for preventing schools from handing out condoms. But Mockaitis of Focus on the Family said that was right.

``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.″

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