Opposition to HB 363 has more to do with ideology than facts

STUDYMidway through the legislative session, Sutherland Institute made a GRAMA request of the state Department of Health asking it to provide us with data it has collected on the rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies for each of Utah’s school districts.

The debate over HB 363, the sex education bill, was raging at the time and part of the debate centered on the effectiveness of abstinence-only and contraception-based curricula. The broad contention is that contraception education actually works better than teaching kids the personal and social skills of how to make good decisions to avoid premarital sex. 

There are four school districts in Utah that currently teach abstinence-only: Jordan, Canyons, Provo and Nebo. Those four districts represent 24 percent of Utah students – a pretty good sample of kids. Sutherland asked what we thought was an obvious question: What are the rates of STDs and teen pregnancy in those school districts compared to the other districts teaching contraception?

Evidently, the question alone is problematic. Evidently, all sorts of factors and variables are at work influencing kids to make a decision, whether it’s to avoid premarital sex or to slip on a condom. Evidently, there are so many variables in play that asking the basic question isn’t even worth the time and money it takes the Department of Health to respond.

At least, that’s what we’ve been told.

The truth is that asking that question is important. If asking for the rates of STDs and teen pregnancy by school district isn’t important, why keep track of data at all? If data are tracked on comprehensive sex education approaches, such as the teaching of contraception, why wouldn’t we use the same data to help us judge abstinence-only approaches? And if abstinence-only programs aren’t ultimately a factor in real outcomes for kids, why do we presume that the teaching of contraception is?

The reason some people, including the media, have pushed back on Sutherland’s GRAMA request is because of the answer we received from the Department of Health. As it turns out, the four abstinence-only school districts have lower rates of STDs than the contraception-based school districts – much lower than the statewide average. In fact, the Provo School District, which has a large population of Hispanic students, has the lowest rate in the state. And the preliminary teen pregnancy numbers mirror the STD data.

Critics say the data doesn’t prove anything. But, actually, it does. It proves that these critics will say anything to avoid the truth. The data shows that STD rates are lower among students in Utah school districts where abstinence-only education is taught. Period.

Mary Eberstadt at Stanford University recently wrote, “From time to time, progressives still reply with ‘Correlation doesn’t prove causation.’ But no one really believes them. In fact, it is almost touching, in a quixotic way, how inventive their hunt for other culprits has become. Is it vaccines that explain the rise in emotional and behavioral problems? Are allergies the reason the child is so angry? Do environmental toxins cause anxiety? Who knows? Maybe we should ask the Easter Bunny.”

When only some facts count, none do. The opposition to HB 363 is ideological at heart. And the pushback on the Department of Health data reveals that.

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  • JBT

    As Mark Twain wrote, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics”.  The preposterous conclusion drawn from this these statistics is flawed on its face due to the widely differing demographics of each school district in this survey.  How many MORE students would have contracted STD’s in the districts where comprehensive sex education was taught if they had only learned about abstinence is the real question that should be asked.  The appears to be an emerging pattern of “inverse proportionality” between ideology and intelligent thought among the writers on the Sutherland Daily Forum—especially on this topic.

    Fact based sex education is sorely needed by those students in our schools (even some of the good LDS ones) for whom the abstinence only morality based instruction is not enough.  There will always be a portion of teenagers who are sexually active, regardless of the teaching in the homes, churches, and schools PERIOD.  Wishing this fact away because of some utopian vision of perfect families and societies is just plain nonsense. 

    Gary Herbert made the right choice.  Information trumps ignorance and parental choice trumps the Sutherland Institute and Gayle Ruzicka imposing their standards of morality on everyone else through the Legislature.

    • Matthew Piccolo

      “How many MORE students would have contracted STD’s in the districts where comprehensive sex education was taught if they had only learned about abstinence is the real question that should be asked.”
      Alternatively, how many more STDs and pregnancies would students in abstinence-only districts have had if they had received “comprehensive” sex ed?  I’m not assuming that would be the case, but that’s also a question that should be asked.  Your assumption is that  teaching contraception would lower rates, but if that’s the case then why did districts with abstinence-only have such low rates? 

      • Ty

        Strangely, I don’t see the data for Tooele County. You must have it, otherwise it would be irresponsible to make such an analysis without complete data. 

        • Matthew Piccolo

          Tooele County is included with “rest of state” because as far as we know (see below) Tooele does teach contraception.

      • JBT

         Until the statistics compare districts with closely similar demographics who are teaching abstinence only sex education versus a more comprehensive sex education the conclusions drawn by the Sutherland Institute are meaningless. 

        There is another factor that is being completely ignored in this discussion, and that is the fact that the way the current law is written regarding the teaching about contraceptives THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “CONTRACEPTIVE BASED SEX EDUCATION” IN THIS STATE.  Anyone who has taken the time to read the statute would know that.

        The fact is that Utah’s students need more facts and information, not less.  Herbert vetoed a very short sighted bill.  According to Sutherland’s own statistics in 2010 there were 2,148 unwanted teen pregnancies, and 1,829 cases of chlamydia.  My question Matt Piccollo is how many cases of each would there have been had these sexually active teens used a condom?

        • Matthew Piccolo

          How do you know that all those who had STDs or pregnancies weren’t wearing condoms? It’s unlikely that all of them were, but the point is that you have no more evidence to support your position than you claim I don’t have for mine.

  • JBT

    As Mark Twain wrote, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics”.  The preposterous conclusion drawn from this these statistics is flawed on its face due to the widely differing demographics of each school district in this survey.  How many MORE students would have contracted STD’s in the districts where comprehensive sex education was taught if they had only learned about abstinence is the real question that should be asked.  The appears to be an emerging pattern of “inverse proportionality” between ideology and intelligent thought among the writers on the Sutherland Daily Forum—especially on this topic.

    Fact based sex education is sorely needed by those students in our schools (even some of the good LDS ones) for whom the abstinence only morality based instruction is not enough.  There will always be a portion of teenagers who are sexually active, regardless of the teaching in the homes, churches, and schools PERIOD.  Wishing this fact away because of some utopian vision of perfect families and societies is just plain nonsense. 

    Gary Herbert made the right choice.  Information trumps ignorance and parental choice trumps the Sutherland Institute and Gayle Ruzicka imposing their standards of morality on everyone else through the Legislature.

    • Matthew Piccolo

      “How many MORE students would have contracted STD’s in the districts where comprehensive sex education was taught if they had only learned about abstinence is the real question that should be asked.”
      Alternatively, how many more STDs and pregnancies would students in abstinence-only districts have had if they had received “comprehensive” sex ed?  I’m not assuming that would be the case, but that’s also a question that should be asked.  Your assumption is that  teaching contraception would lower rates, but if that’s the case then why did districts with abstinence-only have such low rates? 

      • Ty

        Strangely, I don’t see the data for Tooele County. You must have it, otherwise it would be irresponsible to make such an analysis without complete data. 

        • Matthew Piccolo

          Tooele County is included with “rest of state” because as far as we know (see below) Tooele does teach contraception.

      • JBT

         Until the statistics compare districts with closely similar demographics who are teaching abstinence only sex education versus a more comprehensive sex education the conclusions drawn by the Sutherland Institute are meaningless. 

        There is another factor that is being completely ignored in this discussion, and that is the fact that the way the current law is written regarding the teaching about contraceptives THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “CONTRACEPTIVE BASED SEX EDUCATION” IN THIS STATE.  Anyone who has taken the time to read the statute would know that.

        The fact is that Utah’s students need more facts and information, not less.  Herbert vetoed a very short sighted bill.  According to Sutherland’s own statistics in 2010 there were 2,148 unwanted teen pregnancies, and 1,829 cases of chlamydia.  My question Matt Piccollo is how many cases of each would there have been had these sexually active teens used a condom?

        • Matthew Piccolo

          How do you know that all those who had STDs or pregnancies weren’t wearing condoms? It’s unlikely that all of them were, but the point is that you have no more evidence to support your position than you claim I don’t have for mine.

  • Ty

    You stated that only 4 Utah school districts that currently teach ‘abstinence only’: Jordan, Canyon, Provo, Nebo. Tooele school district also teaches abstinence only. see: http://tooeletranscript.com/view/full_story/17634185/article-District–Abstinence-only-bill-would-not-make-much-difference?
    Tooele County has had historically high teen pregnancy and STD rates than Utah averages. 
    Did you just cherry-pick your data to make the assertion that “STD rates are lower among students in Utah school districts where abstinence-only education is taught”. 

    • Matthew Piccolo

      Interesting quote from the superintendent. I did find a presentation about STDs on the Tooele School District website that specifically mentions contraception many times, so my guess is the superintendent isn’t completely familiar with what an “abstinence-only” curriculum means. 
      I’ve put in a call to the district to verify their policy. You can see the STD presentation on this page: 
      http://tooeleschools.org/departments/districtcurriculum/Pages/Human-Sexuality.aspx

      Also, as reported to me, the State Office of Education only knows of the four abstinence-only programs we mentioned.

      • Ty

        A good contact would be 
        Sherrie Ahlstrom   (435) – 277- 2460. 

        I did a quick search and could not find the word “contraceptive” in the STD presentation.

        Tooele County School District certainly doesn’t have a “contraceptive-based” curriculum either. You allude that there are two groups for the study. One that teaches only abstinence (which I would argue that TCSD would be a part of) and another that teaches contraceptive-based curricula (even though I question this as accurate description). I would have to infer that this study has little credibility if you can not even assign a member to a group correctly. 

        • Matthew Piccolo

          It’s either “abstinence-only” or “abstinence-based,” the latter which includes instruction in contraception. The “STDs at a Glance” presentation mentions “barrier methods,” “condoms,” and “diaphragms.”

          By the way, we didn’t do a study, all we did is report the data.

          • JBT

             “…all we did is report the data”.  It is more like all we did was spin the data to fit our preconceived position.

            “It’s either “abstinence-only” or “abstinence-based. . .”  Why then does Mero use the term “contraception based” in the article above?  It couldn’t be to mislead, could it? 

            The fact is that the way the statute is written there are NO real comprehensive sex education programs in the state that stress or encourage the use of protection for teens who become sexually active in spite of teaching in the home and or church.  It is this population that is sorely in need of this factual information.  Since this pool of students cannot be identified and singled out for instruction, it must be made available to all students with the consent of their parents. 

            Parental choice is one of the core issues in this debate.  What gives the Sutherland Institute the right to prescribe what information about human sexuality my children have available to them in public schools?

  • Ty

    You stated that only 4 Utah school districts that currently teach ‘abstinence only’: Jordan, Canyon, Provo, Nebo. Tooele school district also teaches abstinence only. see: http://tooeletranscript.com/view/full_story/17634185/article-District–Abstinence-only-bill-would-not-make-much-difference?
    Tooele County has had historically high teen pregnancy and STD rates than Utah averages. 
    Did you just cherry-pick your data to make the assertion that “STD rates are lower among students in Utah school districts where abstinence-only education is taught”. 

    • Matthew Piccolo

      Interesting quote from the superintendent. I did find a presentation about STDs on the Tooele School District website that specifically mentions contraception many times, so my guess is the superintendent isn’t completely familiar with what an “abstinence-only” curriculum means. 
      I’ve put in a call to the district to verify their policy. You can see the STD presentation on this page: 
      http://tooeleschools.org/departments/districtcurriculum/Pages/Human-Sexuality.aspx

      Also, as reported to me, the State Office of Education only knows of the four abstinence-only programs we mentioned.

      • Ty

        A good contact would be 
        Sherrie Ahlstrom   (435) – 277- 2460. 

        I did a quick search and could not find the word “contraceptive” in the STD presentation.

        Tooele County School District certainly doesn’t have a “contraceptive-based” curriculum either. You allude that there are two groups for the study. One that teaches only abstinence (which I would argue that TCSD would be a part of) and another that teaches contraceptive-based curricula (even though I question this as accurate description). I would have to infer that this study has little credibility if you can not even assign a member to a group correctly. 

        • Matthew Piccolo

          It’s either “abstinence-only” or “abstinence-based,” the latter which includes instruction in contraception. The “STDs at a Glance” presentation mentions “barrier methods,” “condoms,” and “diaphragms.”

          By the way, we didn’t do a study, all we did is report the data.

          • JBT

             “…all we did is report the data”.  It is more like all we did was spin the data to fit our preconceived position.

            “It’s either “abstinence-only” or “abstinence-based. . .”  Why then does Mero use the term “contraception based” in the article above?  It couldn’t be to mislead, could it? 

            The fact is that the way the statute is written there are NO real comprehensive sex education programs in the state that stress or encourage the use of protection for teens who become sexually active in spite of teaching in the home and or church.  It is this population that is sorely in need of this factual information.  Since this pool of students cannot be identified and singled out for instruction, it must be made available to all students with the consent of their parents. 

            Parental choice is one of the core issues in this debate.  What gives the Sutherland Institute the right to prescribe what information about human sexuality my children have available to them in public schools?