Ohio may become the second state in the nation to adopt regulations that prohibit teaching comprehensive sex education to public school students, under an amendment added to the state budget bill on Tuesday.
The Ohio House GOP-backed idea would subject teachers and organizations that violate the ban to possible lawsuits by parents and $5,000 fines.
The Ohio House is slated to vote on the bill — and the new sex education restrictions — on Thursday.
The proposal calls for prohibiting, providing or distributing condoms or other contraceptives on school grounds and banning the teaching about “gateway sexual activity.” It uses wording from Ohio’s criminal code to define the activity as: “any touching of an erogenous zone of another, including without limitation the thigh, genitals, buttock, pubic region, or, if the person is a female, a breast, for the purpose of sexually arousing or gratifying either person.”
Last week, Republicans added language that would reduce public funding for clinics that only provide family planning services, including Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, and add funding for crisis pregnancy centers.
Damon Asbury, lobbyist for the Ohio School Boards Association, said his group opposes anything that diminishes local control and this idea needs to be thoroughly debated.
“I don’t think we should have teachers put on trial for teaching a prescribed curriculum. It takes you back to the Scopes Trial,” Asbury said.
Similar legislation passed in Tennessee last year and was publicly called the “no-hands holding bill.”
Victoria Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, said the amendment would ensure sex education programs are promoting and providing information that is in the best sexual health interest of the student. Huber said some sex-ed curricula encourage risky behaviors such as showering together that serve as a gateway to intercourse.
“While it’s technically an abstinent activity, anybody who knows anything about human physiology knows it probably won’t be that way for too long,” Huber said.
Huber said lawmakers in a handful of states are considering following Tennessee’s lead but wouldn’t say which states.
Kellie Copeland of NARAL Pro-Choice said the amendment appears to be an attempt to ban comprehensive sex education programs in Ohio public schools.
“I just have to wonder if this legislature is trying to take the state back to the 1950s,” Copeland said.
Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, said Tennessee is the only state to adopt this idea but with Ohio now jumping in more states may follow. Ohio is a national leader when it comes to restrictions on reproductive health.
Studies show comprehensive sex education delays the onset of teen sexual activity, reduces the number of partners they have and increases the use of contraceptives, she said.
“When you ban comprehensive sex education, you really are denying students information that can help them make responsible decisions,” Nash said. “I mean, if you’re going to teach somebody to balance a checkbook, you don’t only teach them how to add.”
She added that tucking the provision into a budget bill doesn’t give the idea the scrutiny and debate that it deserves.
It is unclear who is pushing the idea. House Finance Committee Chairman Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, told reporters Tuesday he doesn’t remember who put the amendment into the bill.
“I think we thought there ought to be a conversation about that and one way to get a conversation going is to propose something in a budget that will get further discussion,” Amstutz said. “We’ll see where this discussion goes.”
It even caught Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis by surpise. “This is not part of the Ohio Right to Life agenda. That doesn’t mean we oppose it. It is nothing that we have been advocating for or against,” he said.
Lori Viars, vice president of Warren County Right to Life, said the amendment is news to her but added, “I don’t think the schools should take the place of parents and churches in teaching students moral issues.”
In 1999, the state adopted a law requiring local districts to craft health education curricula stressing that abstinence is the only sure-fire way of avoiding sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies. In 2001, the General Assembly added a law barring the adoption of statewide physical education or health standards without legislative approval.
As a result, the State Board of Education has standards defining what youths need to know for every subject except health and physical education. Ohio leaves it up to local districts to decide exactly what should be taught.