Thursday, June 4, 2020

Bill aims to teach abstinence

April 21, 2004

Some Michigan legislators are pushing to change the way sex education is taught in public schools, switching the focus of programs to abstinence, rather than safe sex.

Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, is sponsoring the bill, which he says could eventually cut down on pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections in Michigan youth.

Kuipers said while safe sex still will be discussed, abstinence will be the cornerstone of the curriculum. He compared the teaching of safe sex in schools to drug-and alcohol-abuse education.

"If we had taken the same approach to drugs and alcohol and said, 'Don't do it, but if you feel you have to here's how,' - it would be unheard of," he said. "That is the same message we are demonstrating when we talk about safe sex."

The bill also would require school districts to set up sex-education advisory boards, with at least half of the members being parents.

In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush discussed setting aside federal funds to help states develop abstinence curriculum. Kuipers said his legislation is an effort to help Michigan to better qualify for the funding.

"Aside from it being the right thing to do, it has economic benefits," he said.

Kuipers said he expects the Senate to vote on the bill next week.

But Sen. Virg Bernero, D-Lansing, said he is unsure about the bill since it has been changing in committee.

"I have two teenage daughters; I support abstinence," he said. "But if the bill becomes abstinence only, I will be opposing it. I think abstinence should be a part of the curriculum, but it should not be the whole curriculum."

Rep. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, said her gut reaction to the bill is skepticism.

"When students are preached abstinence, the sexually transmitted disease occurrence is as high in them as in those students that aren't," she said. "It's a debate worth having, but it hasn't been proven to change the occurrence of STDs and engagement in sexual activity."

Some MSU groups agree, saying it's more important to teach all aspects of sex education.

Elizabeth Wong, president of MSU's Students for Choice/VOX group, said abstinence-only education doesn't keep students well informed.

"People are going to experiment, and they should know how to be safe," the material sciences and engineering junior said. "What's abstinence-only going to help?"

The group, along with multicultural sorority Zeta Sigma Chi, is co-sponsoring a speaker from the Planned Parenthood Federation of Michigan at 7:30 tonight in the Purdue room of the Union.

Charles Cook, community specialist for the organization, will discuss how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

"We find it important and necessary for people to be educated correctly so they won't end up sick or pregnant and needing an abortion," Wong said.

Staff writer Tara May contributed to this report.

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