by John Martin, CNN
(CNN) – When I was a senior in the late 1980s, my high school brought in a woman from Planned Parenthood to talk to my health class. I remember her because she had props – a condom and a banana. Utah may outlaw lessons like that one very soon. The state's legislature passed a bill mandating that when it comes to sex education, public schools must teach about abstinence, and almost nothing else.
If the bill is signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah's teachers will not be allowed to inform students about contraceptives, "the intricacies of intercourse," homosexuality, or sexual activity outside of marriage. The bill says teachers would have to inform students that, "abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage as the only sure methods for preventing certain communicable diseases." Teachers would still be allowed to provide instruction on male and female physiology and anatomy, as well as health issues like AIDS/HIV. The proposed law does allow schools one other option: not to teach anything about sex at all.
According to CNN affiliate KSL, the bill's sponsor, Utah state Rep. Bill Wright, said that he believes sex education shouldn't be taught in the classroom; he says that kind of instruction should take place in the home. Wright says he decided to change existing sex education laws after seeing instructional materials provided by Planned Parenthood that he viewed as inappropriate. The proposed bill mandates that Utah schools must use approved abstinence-only curriculum materials for sex education instruction.
The Utah Education Association – a teacher's union – and the Utah Parent Teacher Association are urging the governor to veto the bill. A state senator opposed to the bill said that schools need to teach young people about sex because parents might not address the topic at home. Critics of the bill point to a 2007 study of abstinence classes that found no difference in the abstinence rate between students who took the class and students who did not.
An online petition has garnered more than 35,000 signatures, asking the governor to veto the bill.
Current Utah law stresses abstinence, but teachers can currently provide contraceptive instruction. In addition, parents can decide whether their children will receive sex education. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, very few parents in Utah's largest school districts opt out of these kinds of lessons for their children.
The bill is on Herbert's desk, but there has been no indication yet whether the governor will sign or veto the bill. A spokeswoman for the governor's office said that he has received thousands of calls, e-mails and letters on both sides of the issue. The governor has said his decision will reflect the best policy for Utah, not necessarily public opinion.