New Jersey Law Requiring Schools to Stress Abstinence in Sex Education Classes Draws Criticism, Support
A New Jersey law that requires all educational material and classes dealing with contraception also to stress abstinence is "sparking spirited debate" about sex education, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Burney, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/18). The law, signed last January by then-acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco (R), states that "[a]ny instruction" -- including class lectures and pamphlets -- that deals with contraceptive use "must include information on their failure rates for preventing pregnancy, HIV infection and other STDs in actual use among adolescent populations" and must stress abstinence as "the only certain method to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases" (Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 1/4). The law does not mandate "how much emphasis" must be placed on abstinence or what educational materials should be used and leaves curriculum decisions "completely up to" the school districts.
Both Sides of the Debate
Supporters of the law say that teaching abstinence along with information about contraception is "the only sure way" to help teenagers avoid unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, the Inquirer reports. "I don't want them walking away with a how-to list of how to do it," Tamara Chastain, the parent of a student in Salem County, said, adding, "I think we're promoting kids to be more and more sexually active and to be promiscuous." However, critics, including members of the New Jersey Education Association, call the law an "unwarranted intrusion into the classroom;" worry that the law will lead to the elimination of any discussion of safe sex and contraception use; and say the law is "unnecessary" because many districts already teach abstinence, according to the Inquirer. "The legislature should have stayed out of it," Edithe Fulton, president of the teachers' union, said. "They aren't living in the real world. We know the kids are sexually active." New Jersey is one of 22 states that require abstinence education to be coupled with sex education classes that discuss contraception (Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/18).