State lawmakers have targeted restricting sex education since the Dobbs ruling, especially in states banning abortion – CNN

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Less than halfway through the year, 2024 has already broken the record for the most sex education bill proposals in state legislatures since at least 2018.

At least 135 bills — the majority of which would place restrictions on sex education in K-12 public schools — have been introduced or are currently active as of April 12, according to a CNN analysis of data exclusively provided by SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a non-profit organization advocating for comprehensive sex education in the United States.

Since the Supreme Court eliminated the federal constitutional right to abortion in 2022, there has been a significant increase in legislation restricting how sex education is taught in schools, especially in states limiting abortion access.

Last year was the first time since at least 2018 that restrictive sex education bills outnumbered comprehensive bills in state legislatures across the country, according to CNN’s analysis.

Restrictive sex education bills include proposals that would ban sexual orientation or gender identity discussions, remove instruction on contraception or emphasize abstinence in sex education curricula, for example. Comprehensive bills include measures that would ensure sex education is culturally or LGBTQ-inclusive, cover topics such as consent or include information on menstrual health.

About four in five sex education bills moving through legislatures in 2018 proposed making sex education more comprehensive — strengthening existing curricula and ensuring materials were medically accurate or age-appropriate, according to SIECUS. And just 11% were restrictive.

Five years later in 2023, after the Dobbs ruling, there was a dramatic shift. The share of comprehensive sex education bills plummeted to 22%, and most of the bills filed in state legislatures across the country were directed toward tightening restrictions on sex education — what it can entail, what hoops parents and teachers need to jump through for students to learn about it and even who can teach it.

The surge in restrictive sex education bills has not only affected states rolling back access to abortion. Restrictive bills in 2024 make up 73% of bills passing through states where abortion is banned or heavily restricted and 51% of bills considered in states where abortion is legal or protected.

“One of the best ways to restrict abortion is to not educate people about what their sexual rights are, about their own bodies, how to advocate for themselves, where to get good health care,” said Eva Goldfarb, a professor of public health at Montclair State University who specializes in comprehensive sexuality education.

Rise in bills emphasizing parental oversight and curbing discussion around sexuality and gender

Bills requiring parental oversight of sex education became more commonly introduced throughout 2023 and so far in 2024. These bills require educators to adhere at times to stringent procedures to notify and get consent from parents regarding what they can teach their children about sexual health and apply more legal liability for administrators.

Kentucky’s House Bill 304, for example, would require schools to notify parents if a student makes it known they are transgender or nonbinary and prohibit educators from providing instruction on any topic that parents have expressed via written notice “conflicts with the family’s religious or moral beliefs.” The bill also states parents will have the right to sue the district or school employees for violations.

In 2018 and 2019, there was a push for sex education to include instruction on human trafficking, child sexual abuse and dating violence prevention, CNN found. That, along with efforts to require consent to be taught in sex education, has dwindled in recent years.

Bills proposing banning sex education instruction in specific grade levels — typically elementary school — have become more common. At least 12 bills aimed at banning early childhood sex education were introduced or were active in 2023, followed by eight bills in 2024.

“Maybe we’re doing ourselves a disservice by calling early childhood education ‘sex education,’” said Alison Macklin, policy and advocacy director of SIECUS. When people think about sex education, many often think about how the body works, genitalia and reproduction, but it encompasses much more than that, said Macklin.

“We’re teaching basic core concepts of decision making, speaking up for oneself,” she said. “Then as the person develops, and as they mature, we start to add in more sexual content.” She emphasized that early childhood sex education includes topics such as learning how to use anatomically correct terminology when talking about their bodies, which has been proven to reduce child sexual abuse, and how to say “no” in everyday life.

Those topics are getting cut in some schools. Idaho’s HB 228, for instance, passed last year and redefines sex education solely as the study of anatomy and physiology of human reproduction.

Georgia’s Senate Bill 532, which was tabled by the state Senate in February, would have prohibited sex education prior to fifth grade and required schools to give parents the “public opportunity to review and to provide comment on proposed sex education curricula.” Missouri’s SB 1024 would ban instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation between kindergarten through third grade.

Idaho was one of 25 states that proposed restrictive legislation last year and one of 28 states so far in 2024. This year, Oklahoma has taken the lead with 10 restrictive bills currently active in its legislature.

Meanwhile, seven bills proposing more comprehensive sex education have been introduced or are active in Minnesota so far in 2024 — more than any other state.

Although lawmakers have put forth numerous bills, only a handful have been passed in the last few years. Just 11 of more than 320 sex education bills that have been introduced since 2022 have passed. In 2023, eight of the total 114 bills were signed into law — all eight were restrictive. Only one bill, also restrictive, has been approved so far in 2024.

Because bills banning sex education outright or restricting it to certain grade levels are finding limited success passing in legislatures, conservative lawmakers are trying more indirect approaches, said Nawal Umar, a senior policy analyst at SIECUS. “The overarching trend that we’re noticing is that these bills that are sort of indirectly impacting sex education … are more likely to pass.”

This includes bills like Idaho’s HB 666, which doesn’t address sex education in schools. It prohibits abortion providers from writing materials or instruction relating to sex education curricula and takes effect in July. The bill was introduced, passed swiftly through the state legislature and was signed by the governor in less than one month.

Arkansas’ SB 384, which passed last year, mandates schools teach adoption awareness — including “reasons adoption is preferable to abortion.”

Umar suspects the influx of legislation targeting sex education across the country this year is linked to the upcoming election.

“Lawmakers are showing very clearly where they stand,” she said.

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