AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Some Democratic state lawmakers said Monday they will work to expand Texas' sex education curriculum to incorporate more medical information about contraception and disease prevention and replace the existing law that leans toward abstinence-only instruction.
"The status quo is not working," said Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat and a leader of the effort. "Only through honest information will teens have the tools they need for responsible decision-making and disease prevention."
A proposal by Ellis and Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, attempts to give teenagers access to "complete, medically accurate and age-appropriate" sexual health information at school with the aim of reducing teen pregnancy and infections, the legislators said.
Social conservatives have voiced concern with changing the sex ed system, in place since the mid-1990s when George W. Bush was governor. Republican Gov. Rick Perry's office said he would review the new proposal but that he likes the existing policy.
"The governor is comfortable with current law and supports abstinence programs," said his spokeswoman, Allison Castle.
The conservative Texas Eagle Forum views the Democrats' proposal as something that tries to cover up for immoral behavior by men and does the bidding for abortion providers, said Cathie Adams, president of the organization.
"I see this as a very anti-woman, anti-girl attempt," Adams said. "It's putting immorality off on children."
The Texas Republican Party also appears at odds with the proposal. The platform states: "We oppose any sex education other than abstinence until heterosexual marriage."
Other Democrats joining Ellis and Castro in pushing the legislation said it would allow parents to "opt out" if they don't want their children to be taught from the sex ed curriculum. They noted that measure would still present sexual abstinence as the only method that's totally effective in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and infections.
"We're just saying we're all for abstinence. What we don't want is an abstinence from education," Ellis said.
Karen Dulaney Smith, a member of the Austin Independent School District board, joined the lawmakers at a Capitol news conference. Though the Austin district provides sex education, she said there is no set standard for teachers to follow in their instruction and that textbooks do not mention contraception.
Ellis and Castro said existing state law does not require schools to teach sex education, so some districts may have it and some don't. They said their proposal would not force districts to teach sex education, but that if they do it will require complete and accurate information.
Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat who wrote the current law with Republican Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa in 1995, said he supports the proposed change because the education code has been misinterpreted.
Coleman said the existing law was added to Bush's education bill creating school health advisory committees in each school district. He said the measure states that abstinence should be presented as the preferred behavior choice for young people before marriage, but that the policy has been misconstrued as abstinence only.
The sex education bills are SB 515 and HB741.
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