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SC sex education bill blocked in Senate committee

COLUMBIA — A state senator blocked a bill on Wednesday that would have required South Carolina schools to teach medically accurate information in sex education and inform parents what is being taught.

The measure seeking to update the state’s 26-year-old sex education curriculum passed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday by a 9-2 vote, but Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greeneville, placed a procedural hold on its advancement to the Senate floor.

With only a week left before the legislature adjourns, the bill is effectively dead, said sponsoring Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Pickens.

Skelton said he is disappointed that anyone would oppose a bill seeking to reduce teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection rates and abortions. He said teen pregnancies also contribute to poverty and welfare dependency.

“I’ve seen the impact that teen pregnancy can have on young women’s lives,” said Skelton. Ensuring the teaching of medically-accurate sex education would empower young women with knowledge and without such information, things happen, he said.

The bill, which passed the House 57-53 last month, defines medically accurate information as being “supported by peer-reviewed research that complies with accepted scientific methods, published in or by medical, scientific, psychological, sociological, government, or public health publications, organizations, or agencies such as the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the United States Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health.”

It also sought to force school districts to comply with the 1988 law of emphasizing abstinence and teaching contraception by filing reports with the Department of Education and informing parents on what is being taught in classrooms. Under current law, there’s no punishment for noncompliance.

Skelton said enforcing compliance is needed because 75 percent of school districts have not been complying with the law.

South Carolina has the 11th highest teen birth rate in the nation with more than 5,500 teen births a year but has seen a 47 percent decrease since 1992, according to the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

Fair said the steady decline of teen pregnancies since the passage of the current sex ed curriculum in 1988 is proof that it is working and that change could endanger that progress.

“Fewer teen pregnancies are fewer teen pregnancies,” Fair said.

Fair said that the current law does not include any mandate of medically-inaccurate information and saw no need to include a mandate to ensure the teaching of accurate information.

Emma Davidson, associate director for strategic mobilization at Tell Them advocacy network, said Fair does not represent the 84 percent of South Carolina voters who favor sex education that emphasizes abstinence but still teaches contraception, as surveyed in 2012 by the state Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

Fair’s opposition “means South Carolina students are going to have to wait another year to have medically-accurate information in their health classes. It means that parents are going to wait another year to learn what is being taught in their kids’ health classes,” Davidson said.

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