During a debate over Ohio’s budget on Tuesday afternoon, Republicans in the House tacked on an amendment that would prohibit health classes in public schools from including any instruction on “gateway sexual activity,” which encompasses all sexual contact. The budget bill relies on the same definition of “sexual contact” that also appears in the state’s criminal code: “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.”
Under the amendment, sex ed classes wouldn’t be permitted to provide students with any information that might “condone” that type of gateway activity. That includes dispensing contraception. The legislation would also empower parents to sue if their children end up receiving this type of sexual instruction, and sex ed teachers could be subject to thousands of dollars in fines:
The sex education addition says that any instruction conducted under the state’s model health education program must not promote “any gateway sexual activity or health message that encourages students to experiment with sexual activity.”
It goes on to prohibit distributing certain materials, conducting demonstrations with “sexual stimulation” devices, or distributing contraception.
If a student receives such instruction, a parent or guardian can sue for damages, and a court may impose a civil fine of up to $5,000.
Ohio isn’t the first state to worry about students being corrupted by learning about “gateway sexual activity.” Almost exactly one year ago, Tennessee Republicans pushed to strengthen their state’s abstinence-only law by defining kissing and hand-holding as gateway activities that could lead teens to engage in sexual intercourse. Of course, whether or not U.S. teenagers are taught abstinence in their health classes, most of them still become sexually active. By their 19th birthday, seven in ten American teens will have had sex.
The “gateway” provision isn’t the only amendment Republicans have added to the budget bill that focuses more on sexual health resources than on the state’s finances. Abortion opponents also successfully pushed for an amendment to the legislation that would defund the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics, and reallocate those family planning dollars to right-wing “crisis pregnancy centers” that don’t actually provide the same kind of health services. This represents the third time in just one year that Ohio Republicans have attempted to strip funding from the national women’s health organization.
Now that Ohio’s House Finance Committee has approved the revisions to the budget bill, it will head to a full House vote later this week, likely on Thursday.