Thanks to the hard work of pro-family legislators in Wisconsin, the state has passed a new law that will allow different types of sex education in public schools – including abstinence education – replacing the old law which mandated either comprehensive sex ed or nothing.
The Catholic News Agency (CNA) is reporting that the new bill, which is expected to be signed into law by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, will allow schools to offer more than just comprehensive sex education programs. Schools will now have the option to offer abstinence-based programs or “dual track” programs where abstinence is taught alongside other approaches.
The old law, known as the Healthy Kids Act passed in 2009, was controversial in that it allowed only comprehensive sex education to be taught in schools. If school districts wanted to include sex ed in their curriculum, their only choice was to adopt a program that included instruction on the “health benefits, side effects, and proper use of contraceptives and barrier methods.”
The former law also allowed school volunteer health care providers, such as those from Planned Parenthood, to refer children to nearby clinics for contraceptives or abortions.
The new law, entitled the “Healthy Communities/Healthy Kids Act,” co-authored by State Senator Mary Lazich (R) and State Representative Joel Kleefisch (R), gives schools much more latitude in the kind of programs they can offer. It also prohibits volunteers from providing students with any instruction in “human growth and development.”
Barbara Sella, associated director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, wholeheartedly supported the new bill.
“Science is confirming what natural law and Catholic faith express: that human beings flourish best when they live balanced, authentic, and integrated lives of love and responsibility,” Sella told CNA. “Everyone deserves to hear this message, but especially children and adults who may be struggling with poverty, broken marriages, or infidelity: ‘There is another way.’”
Wisconsin’s Catholic conference was one of several groups supporting a change from what Sella called an “all or nothing” approach.
In addition to the provision for abstinence-focused and dual-track programs, the bill will allow other curriculum changes that Sella says will encourage responsibility and respect for life. For instance, students can now learn about prenatal development and birth, parental responsibility, and the benefits of marriage. They can also learn that abstinence is the only way to prevent pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted diseases.
Even though these changes will find support among Catholics and other people of faith, this new law was not an attempt to impose religious values on the public.
“As Catholics we know that human sexuality is an astonishing gift that can lead to authentic love, new life, and the nurturing of children in safe, loving homes,” Sella said. “But what is also becoming evident is that this teaching accords with what the biological and the social sciences are telling us about human reproduction, marriage, child-rearing, and family.”
In time, the benefits of an approach that promotes maturity and responsibility will become clear.
“A number of school districts may not adopt it,” Sella said of the abstinence-focused option. “But little by little, as long as there’s an opening, we’ll see over time who does the best.”
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