Wisconsin Set to Overturn Healthy Youth Act in Favor of Abstinence-Only Programming

The change would effectively open the floodgates for abstinence only programs to implement curricula in Wisconsin if a school board so chooses.

[img src]

Last year Wisconsin State Senator Mary Lazich introduced a bill that overturns the standing Healthy Youth Act which requires comprehensive sexual education in favor of abstinence only until marriage programming in schools.   Her measure subsequently passed the Wisconsin Senate 17 – 15 just before the 2011 holiday break.  As is procedure, the companion bill with nearly identical language – AB 337 – must now be passed in the Assembly before reaching the governor’s desk.

AB 337 specifically removes from the existing law discussion of puberty, pregnancy, parenting, body image, and gender stereotypes, and the health benefits, side effects, and proper use of contraceptives and barrier methods approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent pregnancy and barrier methods approved by the FDA to prevent sexually transmitted infection.

According to Lisa Subeck, Executive Director of NARAL Pro Choice Wisconsin, the ab-only bill “is going to fly through the Assembly, I expect it will pass very soon and Walker will surely sign it.”

“Of course we will issue a veto message to the Governor,” said Subek, but it is one he will simply brush aside. Walker has presided over a Wisconsin legislature that has introduced extreme anti-choice and anti-woman legislation. In addition to the ab-only bill, the legislature has brought bills to de-fund Planned Parenthood, block insurance companies from covering abortion, a pending anti-telemed bill and a blossoming egg-as-person effort. Subek says that she expects more anti-abortion bills to come down and wouldn’t be surprised to see a forced ultrasound bill soon.

The measure would be a huge step backward allowing ab-only instruction by typically faith-based groups that preach the expectation that only sex within the confines of heterosexual marriage is acceptable. Abstinence only programs do not instruct students on the proper use – or even the myriad options – of contraceptives, unless it is to deny the effectiveness of condoms when used appropriately.

The ineffectiveness of abstinence-only programs in reducing the number of teen pregnancies and reducing the spread of disease is well documented. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, virginity pledges, a staple of abstinence-only programming, not only did not decrease occurrences of teen STDs, but actually resulted in pledge-takers not seeking medical attention once infected, leading to an increased possibility of transmission.

This doesn’t even touch on the fact that ab-only programs have been shown to utilize shame based techniques to promote biased views of gender roles, marriage, pregnancy options and are decidedly against inclusion of LGBTQ youth in their instruction. 

Although President Barack Obama did away with George W. Bush’s faith-based funding stream that dumped millions into the ab-only industry that doesn’t mean federal and state money for the programming is a thing of the past.   During the fight in Congress over health-care reform, Republicans put $250 million for abstinence-only programs into the Affordable Healthcare Act. 

In addition to removing appropriate and crucial discussions of basic human development, puberty and body image off the table, the bill’s authors seek to redefine “medically accurate information” changing the established definition from:

Information that satisfies all of the following: 1) the information is supported by the weight of research conducted in compliance with accepted scientific methods; 2) where appropriate, the information is published in peer-reviewed journals; and 3) the information is recognized as accurate by relevant leading professional organizations or agencies, such as the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, or the American Academy of Pediatrics. Current law defines “age appropriate” as suitable to a particular age group of pupils based on the developing cognitive and emotional capacity of and behaviors typical for the age group. Current law permits a school district to eliminate from the human sexuality and development curriculum information that is not age appropriate.


This bill modifies the definition for “medically accurate information” to mean information that is scientifically based and published, where appropriate, in peer-reviewed journals and textbooks.

This will effectively open the floodgates for abstinence only programs to implement curricula in Wisconsin if a school board so chooses. Ab-only organizations such as WAIT Training (Why Am I Tempted?) Project SOS and many others have been cited for teaching medically inaccurate information as painstakingly detailed in the 2004 Waxman report.

Subek finds this attempt to redefine medical accuracy particularly insulting, “who do they think they are to say what medically accurate means?  This is outrageous but unfortunately comes as no surprise.”

Subek is right. These kinds of moves have become expected from the right.  Last year Lila Rose of Live Action told a crowd at the “Values Voters Summit” that she was at work on what no promises to be another deceptive so-called expose of Planned Parenthood.  This time however, Rose would be targeting Planned Parenthood’s comprehensive sex education programs. Wisconsin’s bill can be considered the companion to a Rose-like anti-Planned Parenthood attack, opening the gates for ab-only’s return putting the groups back in line for state and federal funding.