CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay
So far this year, Louisiana lawmakers have launched several attacks on reproductive health care. A bill currently advancing in the legislature would impose the same restrictions on abortion clinics that are forcing dozens of facilities out of business in Texas. But that’s not enough for the abortion opponents in the state. Another new piece of legislation sends a clear message about the people who work at health clinics that provide abortion care: They can’t be trusted in public schools.
House Bill 305, spearheaded by Rep. Frank Hoffmann (R), is intended to prohibit abortion providers from disseminating materials in publicly funded schools. The original version of the bill would have prevented employees at groups like Planned Parenthood from providing any type of instruction to students whatsoever — but Hoffman ended up amending the legislation to narrow the scope, banning abortion providers from instructing students about topics related to “human sexuality or family planning.”
State law already prohibits sex ed materials in Louisiana from including information about abortion or contraception, and Planned Parenthood confirmed to RH Reality Check that it already adheres to that requirement.
This is hardly a new attack against Planned Parenthood. Conservative lawmakers across the country have attempted to target the women’s health organization from all angles, even at the expense of comprehensive sexuality instruction. Last year, Texas Republicans explicitly said that Planned Parenthood employees can’t be trusted to provide sex ed because they have a vested interest in convincing teens to get pregnant so the organization can perform their abortions. That sentiment is at the heart of Louisiana’s proposal as well.
During a press conference to introduce HB 305 last month, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) claimed that the legislation is an important safeguard against pro-abortion groups’ propaganda. “We’re not saying they can’t speak. We’re saying they can’t use our schools to distribute this literature and promote abortion,” he explained.
And in a press release about the bill, the executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, Benjamin Clapper, pledged his support for the effort to prevent abortion providers from pushing their business on students. “This bill is needed to reassure Louisiana families that their children in state-funded elementary and secondary schools are not being targeted by individuals and organizations who have financial incentives to sell abortion,” Clapper said.
One of the individuals testifying in favor of HB 305 at a legislative committee last week went even further, claiming that abortion providers aren’t appropriate instructors because they “don’t have full and complete understanding of the sanctity of human life.”
A persistent stigma surrounding abortion ensures that the people who provide these services continue to be construed as morally corrupt. Just like the original version of HB 305 would have banned abortion clinic employees from providing any type of services in public schools, some states have taken this idea to an extreme. Last year, Kansas attempted to ban abortion providers from schools altogether in a sweeping provision that could have prevented parents who work at Planned Parenthood from volunteering to chaperone their kids’ field trips. That measure didn’t pass, but the attitude remains — people who support abortion shouldn’t be allowed around kids. Other types of professions aren’t singled out in this way in proposed laws.
In reality, however, Planned Parenthood isn’t exactly working hard to drive up the abortion rate. While the organization is committed to providing abortion care to its patients at many of its clinics, it actually focuses the bulk of its funding on family planning services to prevent unintended pregnancies. In fact, Planned Parenthood is currently the biggest sex ed provider in the country, with a large education-focused branch that works on developing age-appropriate sexual health material for use online and in classrooms. And its sex ed programs are typically well-received.
And ironically, sex ed could unite Planned Parenthood and abortion opponents toward a common goal. Providing kids with comprehensive sexual health instruction, including teaching them how to use birth control, has been proven to lower the rate of unintended pregnancies — and therefore the rate of abortions. But the lawmakers who are insistent on blocking access to abortion tend to resist implementing the policies that would actually reduce the number of people choosing to end a pregnancy.
In Louisiana specifically, where teen pregnancy and STD rates are among the highest in the country, targeting the national organization could have serious repercussions. “Planned Parenthood is one of the leading national providers of comprehensive sex education, and if we are eliminated from schools then our youth who need this information the most will not be able to receive the information,” Raegan Carter, the director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, noted.