Last week, Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed an abstinence-only sex education bill for schools, setting him apart from another Republican governor who vetoed a similar bill last month.
The legislation signed by Walker would promote abstinence as the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases, teaches the positive socioeconomic benefits of marriage, and adds discussion of bullying to the sex education curriculum school districts may use.
The bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Mary Lazich, repeals the Healthy Youth Act passed by Wisconsin legislators in 2010, when Democrats controlled state government. Specifically, this means that the "health benefits, side effects, and proper use of contraceptives" will no longer be taught in schools.
"It actually mirrors what we would advise as the best type of sex education," said Mary Anne Mosack, national director of state initiatives for National Abstinence Education Association, referring to the bill Walker signed.
She added that abstinence-only programs, contrary to some perceptions, don't eliminate contraceptives entirely from sex education classroom discussions, but that they are not part of the "risk avoidance" strategy promoted in the classes.
But in response to Walker's decision, Debra Hauser, executive director of Advocates for Youth, which opposes abstinence-only laws, said the new law represented the kind of misguided thinking that contributed to the country's rates of teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections, among the highest in the industrialized world.
"All too often the U.S. approaches teens and sex with fear, shame, and denial instead of accepting sexual development as normal and healthy. It is society's responsibility to provide young people with honest sex education and confidential services," Hauser said in a statement.
In March, faced with an abstinence-only sex education bill sent to him by Republican lawmakers, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed the proposal. Herbert, a Republican, argued that since the vast majority of Utah parents were opting to have their children take sex education where contraceptives were discussed (but not explicitly supported), they should continue to have that choice.
Kim Henderson, president of the Wisconsin PTA, said the organization had taken no position on the legislation Walker signed. By contrast, the Utah PTA came out against that state's abstinence-only legislation before Herbert vetoed it.