Want to Change MO's Abstinence-Obsessed Sex-Ed Laws? Not in This Legislature

click to enlarge Mean Girls: A fairly accurate portrayal of Missouri's sexual-education policies. - YouTube
Mean Girls: A fairly accurate portrayal of Missouri's sexual-education policies.

Earlier this month conservative lawmakers hijacked a bill seeking to uproot Missouri's abstinence-focused sex-education laws. Now the sponsor of the proposed legislation, Democratic representative Clem Smith, says he's feeling more than a little betrayed.

"There was no warning and no legislative courtesy," Smith says, decrying the tactics that gutted his bill, House Bill 1904. Introduced in February, the bill was to overhaul state laws that mandate students learn about the "emotional trauma" of adolescent sex. Instead, legislators morphed the bill into a slightly tweaked mirror image of the existing law.

"They put a Ginsu knife to it and chopped up 90 percent of my bill," bemoans Smith.

See also: Ridin' Dirty: St. Louis is Still No. 2 in Chlamydia, Gonorrhea Rates

Currently, the Missouri statutes defining sexual education are built on the notions that A) Teen sex is bad; and B) Abstinence is the best way to combat teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs.

Here's the first section from that statute. It describes acceptable course material for sexual education:

Present abstinence from sexual activity as the preferred choice of behavior in relation to all sexual activity for unmarried pupils because it is the only method that is one hundred percent effective in preventing pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and the emotional trauma associated with adolescent sexual activity, and advise students that teenage sexual activity places them at a higher risk of dropping out of school because of the consequences of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy.

Initially, Smith's bill would have retained language describing abstinence as a "preferred method" to avoid pregnancy and STDs, but he wanted to cut out the scare tactics in the middle, among other changes. Sex-ed curricula built on abstinence have been tried, argues Smith, and they just don't work. (It's not just Smith: study after study has blasted moralistic, abstinence-only education as ineffective and counterproductive.)

Additionally, Smith's version of the bill aimed to lift the ban on "abortion providers" -- that is, Planned Parenthood -- from sending medically trained sexual-health educators to Missouri classrooms.

Democratic State Rep. Clem Smith.
Democratic State Rep. Clem Smith.

Smith's bill had a hearing on March 25. Soon after, Smith says, he received word that there would be a vote on April 1 to send his bill out of committee. Smith was unable to attend that vote.

However, unbeknownst to Smith, a Republican legislator within the committee had offered an amendment to rip the teeth from Smith's bill, removing its provisions for more comprehensive sex education. On April 1 the bill was voted out of committee, but it wasn't Smith's anymore. Though committee chairs are not required to notify a lawmaker when amending a bill, Smith says doing so is an established, common courtesy.

"I didn't know what was going on. I hadn't heard from the chairman, and I hadn't heard from the representative that filed the amendment either," he says.

Daily RFT has reached out to the sponsor of the amendment, Republican Kurt Bahr, and we'll update if we hear back.

Unlike Smith's HB 1904, the current form of the bill is virtually identical to the law already on the books. There's a new paragraph requiring schools to teach students about avoiding sexual predators and the consequences of "inappropriate text messaging," but the ban on abortion providers was retained. Gone are Smith's additions for more information on contraception.

Continue to read Smith's original HB 1904 and the version gutted by GOP legislators.

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