March 10, 2011
About 75 high school and college students visited the state Capitol on Tuesday to lobby for a bill that would require districts that teach sex education to offer an abstinence-based comprehensive curriculum. Texas ranks third nationally, behind Mississippi and New Mexico, in teen births.
State law currently requires districts offering sex education courses to emphasize abstinence. Legislation authored by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) would add a mandate to include instruction about various methods of preventing pregnancy and STDs.
"We're still making sure that [abstinence is] the emphasis, but our legislation also has a dose of reality in it," said Castro.
"At my high school, when a teenager gets pregnant, it's not that big of a deal, because it's such a common thing," said Nicole Vargas, a San Antonio senior. Vargas said the abstinence-only message of her 10th grade year was odd, considering many students had already had sex. For STDs, "Most people just think, 'It won't happen to me," she said.
Given the tight budget, it may be time to consider whether parents, rather than the state, should be responsible for sexual health information, said Rep. Rob Eissler (R-Woodlands), head of the House Public Education Committee. The state's teen birth rate is not necessarily a sign the law should change, he said. "It shows these kids are getting an 'F' in abstinence," Eissler said.
Last session, similar legislation died in a House committee, and the current bill faces a challenge given the larger House Republican majority. In last year's election, Gov. Rick Perry campaigned in favor of abstinence education.
The nonprofit Texas Freedom Network organized the youth lobbying event.