Utah law forbids health educators in public and charter schools to advocate for the use of contraception. HB 71 has now passed the senate and is waiting to be signed by Governor Gary Herbert. It permits teachers to explain the different contraceptive methods available while still refraining from advocating its use.
According to Representative Ray Ward, Utah’s sex education laws have intimidated teachers and caused them to shy away from talking about contraception entirely. Ward represents District 19 in Bountiful and says the idea of the bill is to clarify the language of an already existing sex ed law. He says it’s taken-multiple legislative sessions to pass the bill.
“The bill that just passed is not just pleasing to one side. I worked on both sides of the issue to get it passed. It really is just a clarification. It doesn’t make a stark change. It just clarifies what is allowed but to me, I believe the clarification is important.”
Ward says local school districts make age appropriate sex education curriculum decisions. He says HB 71 started because of feedback he received from health teachers along the Wasatch Front.
“So, honestly, I don’t think this changes anything for curriculum directors. They already have put together a lot of good curriculum about contraception. I think the people that are affected are just the teachers in the class room who have already had these curriculums in their hand but had these state law that says you are forbidden to advocate for the use and uncertain what would get them in trouble and what would be okay. And, I am just hoping for the teacher in the classroom to know what’s okay and to feel comfortable about teaching the basic information about these, so all of our students have that knowledge in their hand as they start their adult life.”
Ward says the bill is a small change, but he hopes teachers will use the clarifying language to teach students about family planning and sexual health.
“Almost everybody during their adult life, as they form their family, uses contraception to make their family turn out how they want. And, we just want all of our society to know what the availability is.”
Annabel Sheinberg is the Vice President of Learning and Partnership, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. She says the data shows 99 percent of sexually active women who are 16 to 44 will use contraception at some point in their lives.
“So, we teach young people about complex calculus, advanced calculus and things that they can take classes in that they’re not going to use tomorrow, right. They’re things they are going to use later in life. And, I think we can think about contraception in a similar way.”
The Utah Health Department tracks sexually transmitted infections, and they’ve published data stating 2017 rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis all represent 10-year highs. Sheinberg says there are a couple of reasons why younger people are more susceptible to contracting STI’s.
“What we do know is that young people age 15 to 24 are not half of the people having sex, but they get about half of the new cases of STI’s. Some of that’s biological. Their bodies are a little more prone or susceptible to infection. And, some of it is young people who date or engage in sexual behavior often have shorter partnerships or relationships.”
Summit County Nursing Director Carolyn Rose says the STI rates in Summit County mirror the state data with Chlamydia the most common diagnosis particularly in youth ages 15 to 24. She says the increase in STI’s in Summit County don’t discriminate and cross socioeconomic, religious and ethnic populations. Testing and treatment is confidential and available at the County Health Department in Park City, Coalville and Kamas.
HB 71 passed in the Utah Senate and the House. It will go to the Governor for signing.