A school district in Arizona will remove two pages from a high school textbook that mention birth control and abortion, following pressure from a conservative Christian group that argued the sections violate a state law requiring schools to advocate for childbirth. It will up to each school to decide whether they want to rip out the page or use marker to censor the passage.
The Gilbert Public School Board voted 3–2 to edit a chapter in the textbook “Campbell Biology: Concepts & Connections” that includes information about abstinence, contraception, vasectomies, and abortion-inducing medication as methods of preventing unwanted pregnancy.
According to the school board president, this likely marks the first time that a textbook in the state has been edited under the new law, which prevents school districts from using any materials that do not “present childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.”
The decision followed a presentation from the right-wing group Alliance Defending Freedom, a faith-based legal group that has also recently been fighting against an equal rights law in Houston. The meeting was also attended by conservative lawmakers who spearheaded the 2012 law. State Sen. Nancy Barto (R), who sponsored that measure, has urged parents in the state to make sure their children’s textbooks are following the law, advising them to exert pressure on school officials to “take responsibility if their educational materials fall short.”
The vote came over the objections of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which recently wrote a letter to the school board warning them against censoring the textbook. “The law does not mandate that students be deprived of information regarding abortion and contraception,” the group pointed out in that letter, noting the legislation was supposed to apply to sexual education courses rather than science books.
A state Department of Education official agreed, telling the board in an email that the textbook doesn’t necessarily violate the 2012 law. “The mere mention of a means of medically inducing abortion does not automatically signal a lack of preference for childbirth and adoption,” the official wrote. “The responsibility lies with the teacher to provide context for the student.”
Not every member of the school board is happy about the move, either. “When I looked at the textbooks, I thought they discussed biological principles well and in a very understandable way,” one of the two members who case an opposing vote told a local news affiliate. “If we hand a biology book to ninth-grade students with a page missing, I think there’s going to be some questions about why that page is removed.”
Although the vast majority of U.S. parents support comprehensive sex ed materials, providing teens with accurate information about birth control and abortion remains controversial among a vocal minority. Angry parents have recently pressured schools to drop science based material in states like Nevada, Kansas, and California.
And the censorship of science textbooks isn’t limited to reproductive health. This month, thousands of Texas residents have been pressuring their lawmakers to fix errors in schools’ educational materials that skew the facts about climate change. Education watchdogs say that Texas’ proposed textbooks also mock affirmative action, downplay the effects of segregation, and claim the Biblical figure Moses inspired modern American democracy. In Kentucky, the governor had to use an executive order last year to override the legislature and implement accurate science standards in public schools.