In a 5-2 vote, a House committee put a stop to a bill Tuesday that would’ve banned abortion providers from teaching sexual education in public schools.
Senate Bill 89, sponsored by Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Dunleavy, had made it far in the legislative process by passing two Senate committees, the Senate floor and House Education before it landed in House Health & Social Services. That was the bill’s last committee of referral before potentially getting a vote on the House floor.
On Tuesday, the committee heard more than two hours of public testimony before discussing it for about 20 minutes. Several teens from Juneau and Anchorage testified in person and by telephone against the bill. Most of the testimony was against, with some support for the bill sprinkled in.
SB 89 would have also required parents to opt-in before students can learn sexual education, and prohibit school districts from covering the cost of physical examinations for teachers.
Anchorage Republican Rep. Liz Vazquez, one of the yes votes on the bill, said she reviewed educational resources on the Planned Parenthood website and was “shocked,” “outraged” and “embarrassed.”
“I find the material to be culturally insensitive. By that I mean, it is insulting, it is degrading to traditional cultures. There are traditional Muslim cultures, there are traditional Hispanic, Southeast Asian and African cultures; this is very insulting. I frankly felt insulted,” Vazquez said.
“It appears to also condone pre-martial sex — very contradictory to a lot of cultures and a lot of religious groups,” she added.
“With respect to vice chair Vazquez, embarrassment is a common emotion, especially when parents are dealing with sex education issues with their children,” said Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, a no vote.
Wool said it’s common for kids not to receive comprehensive sexual education from parents.
He also said there are many cultures that have different values — “Some other cultures say they wouldn’t want girls going to school or women shouldn’t vote,” but “we have our own culture.”
Wool said a lot of testimony from parents, teachers and teens expressed satisfaction with the Planned Parenthood curriculum.
“From testimony from several of the students here, it sounds like they appreciate getting some of this education from an outside person with their teacher in the room,” Wool said. “They don’t necessarily want to ask their homeroom teacher about masturbation. It might be embarrassing so if someone else comes in, that might make it easier for them.”
From a public health perspective, Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, said SB 89 doesn’t do anything to help prevent domestic violence, sexual assault, child sexual abuse or sexually transmitted infections.
Tarr said that parental rights aren’t being infringed upon, “every parent has the right to remove their students from any class that they object to.”
“What’s so strange here is why … there are certain people who feel like giving students medically accurate, age-appropriate information is somehow taking away from their role as a parent,” Tarr added. She was a no vote on the bill.
Committee chair Rep. Seaton, R-Homer, brought up the issue of overriding local control and potential legal concerns regarding freedom of speech and freedom of association.
Seaton also voted no on the bill, along with Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, and Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. Rep. David Talerico, R-Healy, was the other yes vote on SB 89.
Throughout Alaska, Planned Parenthood provides education to about 2,000 students every year, including instruction in 25 to 30 schools.
Another bill — Senate Bill 191, also sponsored by Sen. Dunleavy — that bans abortion service providers from teaching in schools and imposes sanctions for violations is still in the Senate committee process. It passed Senate Education in March and its next committee of referral is Senate Judiciary, where it hasn’t had a hearing yet. A similar bill sponsored by Wasilla Republican Rep. Lynn Gattis, House Bill 352, was first heard in House Education earlier this month.