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Sex in the Senate

February 23, 1999
By: David Grebe
State Capital Bureau
Links: SB 163

JEFFERSON CITY - Columbia Sen. Ken Jacob denounced abstinence-based education and in the process set back a bill promoting virginity until marriage.

"If the President of the United States doesn't get the message, some kid in a classroom isn't going to get it either," said the Columbia-area senator, who was criticized by fellow Senator Ted House, D-St. Charles, for his last minute attack on the bill Monday.

House said his bill will help school districts develop clear standards for sex education. The bill requires districts that offer sex education to emphasize abstinence. The bill also bans contraceptive distribution and allows districts to segregate students by gender in sex education classes.

"When I entrust my child to a public school, I'd be outraged if he got any message other than sexual purity," House said.

The bill is being introduced for the third time. While it allows districts to talk about contraception, House wants them to spend the majority of the time talking about abstinence.

House said the bill isn't a "stick your head in the sand" piece of legislation. It would allow districts to talk about contraception, in terms that are "medically and factually accurate."

When dealing with sex education, phrasing matters, House said.

Jacob offered an amendment to House's bill seeking to replace abstinence until marriage as the preferred choice. He instead wanted to include a recommendation for "mutually monogamous" relationships with an uninfected partner.

At this point, Sen. Steve Ehlmann, R-St. Charles, rose to add another amendment - changing Jacob's "monogamous relationships" provision to "heterosexual monogamous relationships."

Stymied by the delay, House said he'd try to bring the legislation back this session.

Leah Edelman, lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, said most Missourians favor comprehensive sex education. She notes abstinence may not be the appropriate emphasis for all children. It depends on the values of their parents, she said.

House mused openly about why Planned Parenthood and other groups opposed to the legislation.

"This bill strikes me as commonsense," House said. "The fact that anyone is opposed to it is amazing."

Widely known for his opposition to abortion, House said his image may conjur up demons in the minds of some Missourians.

"I could propose the Equal Rights Amendment and Planned Parenthood would condemn it," he added.

Inside - and outside - the capitol, one thing everyone appeared to agree was that premature sexual activity could have dramatic consequences - especially for girls.

"The majority of my clients are between the ages of 12 and 19," said Nile Abele, executive director of the Open Arms Crisis Pregnancy Center in Columbia.

"Sex is marketed in so many ways," said Abele. "So many girls we see haven't thought about not being sexually active," he said.

Abele said he'd support the bill as long as it emphasized abstinence until marriage as the expected behavior. Abele said the pregnancy center sees about 600 women a year and said approximately half have of them are Columbia Public School students.

Maggie Ackerman, a nurse at the MU Student Health Center, said she's found students have wildly diverse definitions of what abstinence really is.

"One study found 10 percent of students thought anal intercourse was an abstinent behavior," she said.

"There are two reasons why someone would choose to be abstinent. One would be their value system, and the other disease prevention. If you don't feel good about this emotionally, you shouldn't," Ackerman said.