Governor vetoes abstinence-only education bill

Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed HB363 Friday, a bill the Wall Street Journal called the “nation’s most restrictive sex-education bill.” The bill would have prohibited teachers from instructing students about contraceptives, premarital sex or homosexuality. Despite pressure on both sides of the issue, Herbert acted against the measure that would have required only abstinence education be taught in schools. The governor said the bill went too far in depriving parents the right to choose how their children learn about sexual activity. Herbert said public school instruction should supplement, not replace, lessons taught in the home. “In order for parents to take on more responsibility, they need more information, more involvement, and more choice – not less,” Herbert said. House Bill 363 passed the Senate 19-10 earlier this month. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, said during the legislative session that teenagers need to know that abstinence is the only guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy or sexually-transmitted diseases. He said the law was important to protect the innocence of students. Cache Valley Daily talked to Karrie Galloway, CEO of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, early Friday before the governor announced his veto. She said, “I do not feel that the bill was necessary. As Representative Wright himself has said, no one asked him to run this bill. No one saw it as a problem. He ran it anyway.” Utah Democrats applauded Herbert’s decision but criticized him for announcing the veto after business hours. “The veto was the right choice, and Utah Democrats support it,” said Utah State Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis. “But the attempt to hush up the veto by doing it late on a Friday night was not the way to handle this.” Leading the opposition to the abstinence-only bill was the Utah PTA. Officials said their organization fought the proposal during the session and encouraged its members to send emails to the governor. Opponents of the bill said the existing state law should be preserved, because it encourages abstinence but allows students to learn about contraception and its risks. The bill drew widespread attention during the session and interest increased after adjournment as residents stated their opposition through phone calls, emails and protests at the Capitol. The pressure included an online petition with thousands of signatures against the bill. Young people have questions about sex and sexuality, and Galloway said if the bill had passed, health educators would not have been able to talk honestly about sex, which leaves “young people to learn about things from I don’t know where else.” She said, “They can certainly ask their parents, but that hasn’t proven to be a great way.” According to a 2010 survey completed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Utah’s secondary education system is below the national average in teaching HIV, sexually-transmitted disease and teenage pregnancy prevention. However, the state ranked slightly above average in teaching students how to access reliable health information, services or products for these three topics. Utah had the lowest percentage in the nation – Utah was at 9 percent and the national average was 45 percent – of schools teaching topics related to condom use. The Legislature could go into session and attempt to override Herbert’s veto with a two-thirds vote.

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