The Alaska Senate last week approved a bill that bars school districts from contracting with abortion care providers like Planned Parenthood for sex education classes, as part of a broader Republican-led measure.
Backers of SB 89, which passed 12 to 7 in a near party-line vote, say the bill promotes parental control by requiring new school procedures, so parents can pull their children from any school activity, test, or program due to concerns over privacy or sexual content. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), prohibits abortion care providers from furnishing sex education course materials to schools or teaching sex ed to students.
The bill faces a near-certain legal challenge if enacted. The measure contains provisions that single out abortion providers, which is likely unconstitutional, as a recent legal analysis by the Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency indicated.
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Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said the senate’s passage of SB 89 was “awful news for sexual health education in Alaska.”
“SB 89 and its even-more-extreme companion legislation SB 191 are unconstitutional restrictions on the education available to communities across the state, and today’s vote didn’t change that,” Cler said in a statement. “Senator Mike Dunleavy is an increasingly desperate demagogue who clearly doesn’t care whether his ideas are based in science, medicine, or even the law.”
The bill represents Dunleavy’s second legislative effort to prohibit abortion care providers from teaching sex ed or providing sexual health materials. A similar bill, SB 191, mandates penalties on teachers, including termination or the loss of their teaching certificates, for using sex ed materials from an abortion care provider. SB 191 is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in the Education Committee.
Speaking in opposition to the legislation on the state senate floor on Friday, minority leader Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage) called the bill a prime example of legislative overreach in a state with a significant sexual health problem.
“Alaska leads the nation in chlamydia rates, we lead the nation in child sex abuse rates … we’re among the highest in teen pregnancy, and many of us as parents want our children to be informed, we want them to know the scientific facts,” Gardner said.
Alaska reported 808 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2011—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.
Dunleavy, the bill’s sponsor, warned his senate colleagues against supporting the “abortion industry” and characterized Planned Parenthood’s sex ed programs as “indoctrination.”
“Parents want their kids to be educated in the public schools, they don’t want their children indoctrinated in the public schools,” he said.
A 2014 study in the Journal of School Health, which examined Massachusetts’ Planned Parenthood sex ed programs, showed that 16 percent fewer boys and 15 percent fewer girls had sex between the sixth and eighth grades in schools with the programs, compared to those in schools without them.
Sex ed is a growing target for anti-choice state lawmakers. Texas tried and failed in 2013 and 2014 to bar abortion care providers from providing materials for sex ed courses.