Abortion opponents in Arkansas are currently focused on targeting Planned Parenthood, apparently unconcerned about the fact that their crusade could actually have much broader consequences in areas unrelated to abortion care. On Tuesday, the state Senate voted to strip funding from the women’s health organization, advancing a measure that would effectively kill a comprehensive sex education program that Planned Parenthood currently provides for Arkansas’ public high school students.
Opponents of the measure point out that rather than eliminating abortion services, Republicans are actually targeting state grants that are awarded to Planned Parenthood specifically to fund its sexual health programming. “They’re worried about a few thousand dollars for a group trying to teach young people in this school district in Little Rock about HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it. And it’s just wrong,” one constituent, Eric Camp, pointed out during Tuesday’s debate.
Darrell Seward, a health teacher at one of Little Rock’s public high schools, told the Huffington Post that eliminating the sex ed program would have negative consequences for his students. Seward issued a challenge to state lawmakers to attend one of the classes, learn more about the curriculum, and see whether they continue to object so strongly to it:
Planned Parenthood does not receive any family planning money from the state, but the bill will end a state-funded HIV and STI prevention program that Planned Parenthood administers in Arkansas public high schools. Darrell Seward, the assistant football coach and health education teacher at Little Rock Central High School, said the program is invaluable to his students.
“I would challenge any legislator or politician in the state of Arkansas or higher to set foot in my classroom and listen to the curriculum and walk out and say it’s a bad program,” he told The Huffington Post in a phone interview. “This program has been one of the most well-received programs that our students have ever been engaged in. I am a Republican, but this is one issue I feel very strongly about, because I see the benefit for our kids.” [...]
“My question would be, if it’s not Planned Parenthood, why not?” he said. “Why shouldn’t they deliver this content? I just really cannot understand why any politician would do what they’re doing with this program when they’ve never actually seen it in play.”
Arkansas has some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and HIV infection in the nation. State law does not currently require the public schools in Arkansas to provide sex ed courses that adhere to any kind of standards for medical accuracy.
So far this year, Arkansas’ anti-abortion state lawmakers have been singularly focused on restricting access to reproductive care. The state has already passed some of the most stringent abortion laws in the country, including an unconstitutional 12-week ban that likely faces an imminent court challenge. Planned Parenthood officials point out that if the GOP-controlled legislature is concerned about effective methods to lower the abortion rate, they might want to reconsider attacking one of the few sexual health resources available to young people in the state. Nevertheless, that logic hasn’t dissuaded abortion opponents from pursuing similar initiatives in North Dakota and Texas.