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Anniversary Brings Praise but New Concerns for Planned Parenthood

June 11, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Forty-seven years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the use of contraceptives by married couples in all 50 states. Planned Parenthood says since that time, the country has seen a reduction in the death rate of mothers giving birth and infant mortality and, in Tennessee, lower teen pregnancy rates. However, effective education practices that have worked for decades are now facing a new challenge in Tennessee. It is posed by the new gateway sexual activity legislation, Lyndsey Godwin of Planned Parenthood Tennessee says.

"Laws like this Tennessee code that will enforce abstinence-only education are more likely going to counter that trend, increase pregnancy rates and increase the likelihood of teens having unprotected sex and having sex earlier."

Under the new law, Tennessee teachers conducting sex education classes can no longer condone so-called "gateway sexual activity." Teachers violating the law could face discipline, and speakers from outside groups addressing their students could face fines of up to $500 for promoting or condoning such activities.

Critics of the new bill say it is vaguely written and fear that teachers will be put in a difficult situation when it comes to knowing what to teach and what can be discussed with a student when asked questions.

Godwin warns that research data proves that abstinence-only education does not work to prevent pregnancies.

"The research has told us that comprehensive sexuality education includes information about abstinence, but also includes information about contraception and properly using birth control methods and making informed decisions. We know that that stuff works."

She cites reports from the Centers for Disease Control saying that states such as Mississippi with abstinence-only policies have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. In Mississippi, schools are not required to tech sexual education, but if they do, it must stress abstinence-until-marriage. The Mississippi teen pregnancy rate is 60 percent higher than the national average and has grown 13 percent in just one year.

Godwin says the new Tennessee law could change the outlook for those who have have benefited from using Planned Parenthood resources.

"We're not exactly sure what the law fully means, in terms of our long-term partnerships with teachers."

While there are a lot of assumptions about Planned Parenthood, she says the organization's goals and mission are to simply equip individuals and communities with the tools and skills they need to make informed decisions about sexual activity so they can make their own choices, based on their own values.

More information about the bill and the upcoming education programs at Planned Parenthood is available at www.plannedparenthood.org.

Bo Bradshaw, Public News Service - TN