Alaska lawmakers are moving forward with a bill that would bar Planned Parenthood outreach programs from teaching sex education in public schools and allow parents to opt their children out of sex education classes and standardized testing.
Proponents of the bill, SB 89, say the legislation is about protecting parents’ freedom to “direct the education of a child,” according to the bill’s text.
“Parents have rights, parents have always had rights, those rights have never been extinguished, it’s the basis of what our country is built upon,” state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Mat-Su Valley), who introduced the bill, told KTUU.
The bill, introduced in late March, originally included language that would allow parents to withdraw their children from any portion of school, including standardized testing, that the “parent believes is harmful to the child.”
The material considered potentially harmful by the bill’s authors? Any activity that might question “beliefs involving human reproduction, health, or sex education.”
After a week of back-and-forth, the senate education committee approved the bill on April 9 with additional language that would prohibit Planned Parenthood from participating in sex education in schools.
Dunleavy said during a committee meeting that the bill is not about restricting Planned Parenthood. “We’re not outlawing abortion services providers. We’re saying, ‘Take it out of the school,'” he said.
Though the bill does not specifically mention the organization, officials from Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaii, which has provided sexual health education in Alaska for more than 20 years, said in a statement that the proposal is specifically targeted at them.
“Countless women, men, and teens have turned to us to provide nonjudgmental, unbiased, medically accurate information and education on reproductive health and relationships,” said Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager at Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. “These facts are apparently irrelevant to certain legislators who are so blinded by their hatred of Planned Parenthood that they will put the health of Alaska youth at risk.”
“We fill an important gap left by the state’s inaction on ensuring students have access to the information they need to make educated decisions about relationships and sex,” Cler said. “Until the state steps up in providing medically accurate sexual health education to all students, communities rely on us to provide that information.”
Both chambers of the Alaska legislature are dominated by Republicans.