I’m not here to take a stance on abortion. Debates are raging on both sides, but it doesn’t change the fact our Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, and now millions of women in more than a dozen states who previously had access to abortion soon no longer will.
Now that we’ve got here, the question is: how we can minimize the number of women who experience unwanted pregnancy in the first place — particularly in states where access to abortion is now restricted? It’s a utilitarian question of harm reduction, and the glaring answer is sexual education.
Although concrete statistics are difficult to come by, it is estimated that about half of women who get abortions are using no form of birth control whatsoever at the time of conception, and a further 41 percent are doing so inconsistently. This status quo — where birth control usage is lax and one in five pregnancies is terminated — needs to change.
It’s also an indictment of our education system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than half of high schools and less than a fifth of middle schools cover the 20 recommended components of sexual education. And, according to surveys of students, the situation is only getting worse. The share of girls who say they received information about where to get birth control before they had sex for the first time has fallen from 87 percent to 64 percent since 1995.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that America experiences higher rates of teen pregnancy than most other developed nations. Comprehensive sexual education is associated with a lower risk of teen pregnancy — and lifelong empowerment to take control of one’s reproductive destiny.
Much of this comes down to state and local legislation. Today, only 30 states and the District of Columbia mandate sexual education, just 22 require that instruction be medically and factually accurate, and a mere 19 require that methods of contraception be covered at all.
Ironically, many of the states now restricting access to abortion either don’t require sexual education or stress abstinence in their instruction. That must change. More than half of American teens will engage in intercourse by the time they graduate. Human beings have sex, and pretending otherwise is foolish. Teaching them to do so responsibly is the only realistic path forward.
Every single US lawmaker — and particularly every pro-life lawmaker — should be proposing bills to shore-up sexual education in schools. Empowering the post-Roe generation to engage in responsible sex is the least we can do, and legislators would find it’s a vote winner, too. A whopping 89 percent of likely voters say sex education is important in middle school, and an overwhelming 98 percent think it’s important in high school.
Meanwhile, American parents should also be demanding better reproductive education for their kids. In many areas, sexual education policy falls to local school boards. Just as hordes of concerned parents recently protested the politicization of their kid’s curricula at school board meetings, they should call for comprehensive sexual education from their local officials now, too.
The bottom line: sex education is more important than ever in a post-Roe world. We must empower the next generation of women with the knowledge to help them take charge of their reproductive freedom.
Rikki Schlott is a 22-year-old student, journalist and activist.
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