Louisiana Lawmakers Choose Ignorance Over Healthy Youth
On Wednesday, April 4, Louisiana’s House Education Committee heard House Bill 499, which sought to provide comprehensive sex education instruction in Louisiana’s public schools. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the House voted against the bill.
This was not the first time that comprehensive sex ed. bills have been proposed to Louisiana lawmakers. In fact, HB499’s author, Representative Smith, has brought this bill four or five times now, and it has been defeated every time. The bill has excellent intentions: to bring comprehensive, age-appropriate and medically accurate sex education to Louisiana’s youth. This bill seems essential to promoting better sexual health outcomes for Louisiana’s adolescents. Louisiana currently ranks #1 in the country for the highest rates of adolescent syphilis, #2 for adolescent chlamydia and gonorrhea and #6 for infants born to teenage mothers. However, despite the fact that many of the house members were willing to recognize these statistics as problems, they were not willing to accept comprehensive sex ed. as the solution.
Better sex ed. instruction in Louisiana’s public schools would likely have a drastic impact on promoting positive health outcomes in the state. The proposed instruction would stress abstinence-only as the choice method to prevent STIs and unwanted pregnancy, but also provide students with information about contraceptives and safe sex so that they would know how to protect themselves if they did choose to become sexually active. This approach has historically worked. For example, studies have found that students who had comprehensive sex ed. were 50% less likely to experience pregnancy than their peers who had abstinence-only education. The bill sought to equip students with the tools and knowledge that they need in order to make informed and safe choices about what to do with their bodies.
Much of the opposition to the bill on Wednesday seemed misguided after further analysis. One of the main points consistently brought was that sex ed. is something that should be taught by parents in the home, not by teachers in the school. However, according to a recent study from the Louisiana Public Health Institute and the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, 84% of Louisiana parents believe that sex ed. is an important part of a school’s curriculum, and 74% believe that schools should be required to offer sex education. The same study details that the majority of parents want their students to be taught different methods to avoid STIs and pregnancy, as comprehensive sex ed. would. This seems to suggest that the house members’ concern that parents would oppose this bill is inaccurate. Another major concern was that comprehensive sex ed. would encourage more young people to engage in sexual activity, however, this again is not the case. Studies have found that of students who received comprehensive sex ed., 40% delayed sexual initiation, which is a much more promising statistic than that offered of almost any abstinence-only program.
Despite the supporters’ best arguments, the bill was defeated. So, the question becomes: what do we do now? A problem clearly still exists that is plaguing Louisiana’s adolescents and allowing them to make poor health decisions that are easily avoidable. Luckily, there is still more to be done in this legislative session to help remedy this. Louisiana’s Senate will be hearing a bill next week that would allow the Youth Risk Behavior Survey to survey Louisiana students about their behaviors regarding sexual activity. The collection of this data would help the state to better understand what is leading to poor health outcomes and, in turn, allow us to take more action and figure out what can be done. This bill could serve as a gateway to passing sex ed. bills in the future; if we understand the problems and their causes, we can more easily advocate for the solution.
Though unfortunate that the house voted again House Bill 499, there is still much positive work to be done in this legislative session. We urge you to TAKE ACTION to express your support for better understanding of youth health outcomes and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey Bill. This is a next great step in working towards a happier and healthier Louisiana youth.
By Claire Kueffner
Claire is currently a senior at Tulane University pursuing a degree in Legal Studies in Business and Gender and Sexuality Studies.