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Published: Thursday, 4/18/2013

Plan calls for stricter sex-ed guidelines

Ohio going backward, critics say

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Rep. Lynn Wachtman (R., Napoleon) proposes fines for teaching anything but abstinence. Rep. Lynn Wachtman (R., Napoleon) proposes fines for teaching anything but abstinence.
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An amendment added to the proposed Ohio budget would bar sex-education instructors from promoting “gateway sexual activity” among young people or face civil fines of up to $5,000.

The amendment reinforces a state law, which requires sex education programs to teach that abstinence is the only certain way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

The amendment was introduced by state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon) and was adopted in the two-year budget bill by the House Finance Committee on Tuesday. It is up for a vote today, along with the rest of the proposed budget, said Mike Dittoe, spokesman for the House Republican caucus.

The bill doesn’t spell out what is meant by “gateway sexual activity.” Observers have speculated it could range from holding hands to masturbation — neither of which is included in the definition of “sexual activity” in Ohio law. The amendment prohibits instructors from encouraging “any gateway sexual activity or health message that encourages students to experiment with sexual activity.”

It also bans distribution of certain materials, demonstration of “sexual stimulation” devices, or distribution of contraception.

State Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern, who is a state representative from Catawba Island Township, said Republicans are “bent on outlawing sexuality and reverting to the Dark Ages. If this legislature focused on what really mattered, we could get a lot done. Instead, too many of my colleagues have this bizarre attraction to these extreme issues.”

Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro Choice Ohio, said the Finance Committee “voted to send our state back to the 1950s.”

“The Ohio House is doing everything they can to restrict access to reproductive health care and medically accurate information that help Ohioans live healthy lives," Ms. Copeland said.

She said the amendment will shift Ohio from teaching “abstinence-based” sex education to “abstinence-only” sex education, which she said has been found not to be successful and which will result in higher rates of venereal disease and unintended pregnancies.

The amendment states public schools may not use the services of any individual or organization if the coursework “endorses student nonabstinence from sexual activity as an appropriate or acceptable behavior, or if that individual or organization promotes, endorses, advocates, or condones gateway sexual activity.”

They are prohibited from distributing on school grounds materials that condone, encourage, or promote student sexual activity; display or conduct demonstrations with devices specifically manufactured for sexual stimulation, or distribute contraception on school property.

If a student receives such instruction, a parent or guardian can sue for damages, and a court may impose a civil fine of up to $5,000.

Instructors may present “medically accurate information about contraception and condoms” if students are advised that while such methods may lower the chances of getting pregnant or catching a disease, “only abstinence removes all risk.”

Toledo Public Schools promotes abstinence in 85 percent of its content, which is taught in the eighth and ninth grades, and explains safe sex and contraception at the end, said Jim Gault, the district’s chief academic officer.

“If this goes through, people aren’t going to want to touch it altogether. I think people will be so scared of litigation it will basically drop from the curriculum in terms of talking about sex education at all, if you have the potential to be sued by the parents or taken to court,” Mr. Gault said.

Mr. Wachtmann was not immediately available for comment.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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