Tribune editorial: Sex education, not a ban, is how to reduce abortions in Utah

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Planned Parenthood Teen Council member Marta Myshralle, 17, knows that sex education through the outreach in the community and the lack of understanding she encounters as a student liaison. The Utah Capitol was covered in pink August 25, 2015 as Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah held a community rally and proponents of the family- planning organization gathered. Governor Gary Herbert has said the money that would have gone to Planned Parenthood will be redirected to 26 health agencies in the state in 49 locations. Planned Parenthood estimates it will lose $75,000 of STD testing and more than $100,000 for educational programs.

There is a serious effort out there in Utah state government to cut down on the number of abortions performed in the state.

No, not the proposed bill that would ban the practice after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The one that is being floated by West Valley Republican Rep. Cheryl Acton.

The one that even its sponsor acknowledges is less likely to actually prevent any abortions than it is to drag the state into an expensive legal fight that, after years of litigation, might, just might — but probably won’t — push the U.S. Supreme Court to finally turn its back on the landmark Roe v Wade ruling that has been the law of the land for 45 years.

That won’t help a bit.

What might really result in fewer abortions, legal or otherwise, happening in Utah is the move by the Utah Board of Education to add a breath of reality to the state’s health education standards.

As drafted by a committee of health experts from around the state, and put out for public comment by the state board, the health standards are less mired in the idea that a “Just say no” approach to sex education is worth the effort. While public education in Utah is still restricted by state law to what’s known as an “abstinence-based” focus, the proposed standards would include some information about different forms of contraception and how they work. Or fail.

Such straightforward truth would arm young Utahns with some real knowledge that they could use to make up their own minds about whether, when, with whom, and with what, they might want to begin that part of their lives.

Contraception, condoms and whatnot, work. Except when they don’t. Something that every sexual being — which is all of us — needs to know. And which, to judge by the feedback received at a last of a series of public hearings last week in Springville, an increasing number of parents are happy to have taught.

While it is quite true that abstinence is the only foolproof way of avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, there are other practices and devices that can move the odds in favor of those who wish to avoid those same hazards.

Because it is also quite true that the only almost foolproof way to reduce abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

For just about ever, some members of the board of education and many of those who weigh in on proposed health standards have worried that telling young people the straight truth about contraception somehow usurps the proper role of the family in transmitting not just information but personal standards and sexual morals. Or that it might be seen as an official encouragement for teenagers to become sexually active before they are ready.

But nothing the state does is likely to brush aside the morals taught in the home. Those lessons are either taken to heart or they aren’t and, if they aren’t, then some straight talk about both abstinence and contraception can go a very long way indeed toward minimizing any long-term damage.