COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio law says tweens and teens are old enough to have children, but not old enough to learn sex education in schools.
Abortion is restricted in Ohio, but so is education. Ohio is the only state in the nation without health education standards.
With the combination of the lack of sex education and the six-week abortion ban, Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio (CDF) Executive Director Tracy Nájera believes the state will see pregnancy rates among higher teenage girls.
“Among states that only have abstinence education as part of the requirement, which Ohio does, there is a statistically significantly higher rate of teenage pregnancy in those states,” said Najera.
More than 14,600 Ohios between the ages of 10 and 19 became pregnant in 2016, according to state data.
Ohio is ranked among the five worst states in the nation for health ratings by the Health Policy Institute of Ohio (HPIO). Of the 50 states and Washington DC, Ohio has 47.
The classification is due to the “lack of attention and effective action” with children, equity and prevention. Children experience adversity and trauma at a higher rate than other states, marginalized Ohios face significant systemic disadvantages, and the state spends very little on public health investments, the report showed.
HPIO found that only three other states spend less on public health than Ohio.
The child has little choice if she becomes pregnant, but she may never have received sex education to know the risks. The state gives full control of sex education to local districts.
“Ohio is the only state in the nation without health standards to offer guidance to young people on what they need to know about nutrition, medications, mental and behavioral health, gender, skills they need to being able to make those healthy choices themselves,” Nájera added. “When we say knowledge is power, really, it’s having that knowledge of what safe practices are.”
House Bill 110, the 2022-23 budget, had another bill, HB 240, slipped into it.
HB 240, sponsored by Republican State Representatives Sarah Fowler Arthur of Ashtabula and Reggie Stoltzfus of Paris Township, lays down any kind of venereal disease education instruction must emphasize that abstinence from all sexual activity is the only 100% effective protection against unwanted pregnancy, STDs and AIDS.
He goes on to say that course materials should stress that students should abstain from sexual activity until after marriage and should teach about the potential “physical, psychological, emotional and social side effects” of sexual activity outside of it. marriage.
In addition, schools must teach children that conceiving children “out of wedlock” is likely to have “harmful consequences for the child, his parents and society”.
The bill also says educators must “emphasize adoption” as an option for unwanted pregnancies.
There is nothing in this bill, nor in the Ohio Revised Code, which states that such information must be medically accurate or complete.
If a school district wishes to have additional instruction on abstinence-only education, the district must notify all guardians that it is offering this. When announcing families, the district should share the name of the instructors, the name of the provider if applicable, and the name of the program being used.
A student can learn this information only if the tutor has given written permission. There will also be an annual audit of schools to ensure they are meeting the requirements.
The chairman of the conservative Ohio Value Voters lobby group, John Stover, was grateful to see this provision in the budget.
“School districts should be required to provide the materials to parents,” he said. “If the parent wants the child to participate in this learning, he will opt for his children.”
The state should not dictate what is taught in school districts for sex education and parents should have the final say, he added.
There will likely be more teenage pregnancies because of the six-week abortion ban, he acknowledged, but comprehensive sex education has no place in Ohio schools .
“I think what we’ll see now is hopefully teenagers becoming a lot more aware of the outcome and the responsibilities they’ll have,” Stover said.
But how can children know the outcome and responsibilities without being taught in school?
“I believe there are good sanitary standards and there are badly written sanitary standards,” he said. “I think we have the ability to identify things that should and shouldn’t be taught in a classroom.”
If Ohio wanted to create health standards with current requirements, he said there was room for compromise.
“As long as it’s appropriate and we’re not dealing with a way to hijack, you know, the indoctrination of comprehensive sex education with children, I think Ohio can, in fact, see health standards,” he added.
However, abstinence education alone, which can create fear about healthy sexual activity, has been proven not to work, Nájera said.
This data is largely backed up.
University of Georgia researchers found that abstinence education alone is “ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may in fact contribute to the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the United States”
“Our analysis adds to overwhelming evidence that abstinence-only education does not reduce teen pregnancy rates,” the researchers said. “Advocates of continued abstinence-only education need to ask themselves: if adolescents are not learning anything about human reproduction, including safe sexual health practices to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STDs, and how to plan their adult reproductive life in school, so when should they learn it, and from whom?”
Stover argues that people who want more should go somewhere where they can enroll their children.
The sex education argument has seeped into the ideas of the child abuse prevention agenda, frustrating advocates against child sexual abuse. Ohio is also one of the few states that does not require that child sexual abuse prevention be taught in schools.
Bipartisan lawmakers have tried five times in 10 years to pass Erin’s Law, now HB 105. The bill was introduced to this General Assembly by State Representatives Brigid Kelly, a Cincinnati Democrat, and Scott Lipps , a Republican from Franklin.
Erin’s Law, named after a survivor of child sexual abuse Erin Merryn, would require every school district, community school, and STEM school to provide annual age-appropriate instruction in child sexual abuse prevention. It would also incorporate this prevention into its required training for teachers and other professionals.
“There’s a lot of kids in Ohio going to bed tonight keeping the same secret I kept as a kid, waiting to be taught in school, waiting to get that education, to empower them to be believed and how to speak up,” Merryn said in testimony in June.
RELATED: News 5 Ongoing Coverage Findings for Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Bill After 10 Years of Stallion in OH Senate
The bill has had no opposing testimony, however, a few Republicans and the Center for Christian Virtue have come out against it, saying it teaches sex education and keeps parents in the dark. During the hearing, State Senator Sandra O’Brien, a Republican from Ashtabula, warned that not all parents would be able to verify their child’s program.
“I’m sorry for what happened to you, there is harm in the world and there always will be harm,” the senator said. “I fear losing the innocence of our young children.”
Kelly and Lipps pointed out that this legislation is age-appropriate and would be taught in age-appropriate ways.
“This bill does not establish a health curriculum and this bill does not establish a sex education curriculum,” Kelly said. “It’s about preventing sexual abuse, it’s about preventing sexual violence.”
Stover doesn’t like the bill either.
“We could have a child from kindergarten to the final year and devote two or three lessons a day to sexual violence, but that will not yet prohibit, as was the case here, from a dozen in this case one-year-old girl from being raped,” Stover said.
He references the story that has garnered national attention as a talking point for abortion rights supporters. A 27-year-old man has been arrested and charged with allegedly raping a 10-year-old girl from Ohio who later traveled to Indiana to have an abortion.
RELATED: Man Arrested for Raping 10-Year-Old Ohio Girl Who Traveled to Indiana for Abortion
“It was certainly a tragedy, there’s no doubt about it,” Stover said, then discussing the suspect’s immigration status.
Nájera had to take a second to speak with News 5 about how the 10-year-old probably wouldn’t have known what was happening to her, but she could still have the baby.
“The 10-year-old girl who was raped, she wouldn’t have had any kind of help in seeking education in her classroom to identify herself…” she sighed. “Not having that support of knowing ‘I should go see an adult’ or ‘I should talk to someone, I can talk to someone without being blamed for the other person’s actions’. Wow.”
Lack of access to comprehensive comprehensive care could mean more teen pregnancies, she added. The births also have a disproportionate impact on many low-income marginalized people who cannot afford health care or travel to other states for treatment, she said.
“Comprehensive sex education, comprehensive health education – these are essential to ensure that young people have all the information skills, information about risks and benefits that could be learned in all aspects of behavioral health and general health,” the attorney said. said. “Not having this in place is a disservice to children and young people.”
The lack of standards has always been a problem, but now the stakes are higher, Nájera said. The least Ohio can do is educate about pregnancy before children are forced to have children.