The Arkansas Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that defunds Planned Parenthood and effectively kills a comprehensive sex education program in the state's public high schools.
Arkansas Senate Bill 818, introduced by state Rep. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch), would block all state funds from going to any entity that provides abortions or refers patients to other abortion providers. The bill would also prohibit any organization that contracts with an abortion provider or referrer, including power companies, water companies, health insurers or medical suppliers, from receiving any state money. Supporters of the bill argue that it prevents taxpayer money from indirectly paying for abortion and abortion referrals.
Planned Parenthood does not receive any family planning money from the state, but the bill will end a state-funded HIV and STI prevention program that Planned Parenthood administers in Arkansas public high schools. Darrell Seward, the assistant football coach and health education teacher at Little Rock Central High School, said the program is invaluable to his students.
"I would challenge any legislator or politician in the state of Arkansas or higher to set foot in my classroom and listen to the curriculum and walk out and say it's a bad program," he told The Huffington Post in a phone interview. "This program has been one of the most well-received programs that our students have ever been engaged in. I am a Republican, but this is one issue I feel very strongly about, because I see the benefit for our kids."
Arkansas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, and 60 percent of the counties in the state do not have an OB-GYN. The Republican-controlled state legislature recently passed a ban on abortions after 12 weeks of gestation, the second-most extreme abortion ban in the U.S.
Seward's high school is the sixth largest public high school in Arkansas and also one of the most diverse. He said the focus of Planned Parenthood's sex education program is on abstinence and decisionmaking, but the students also learn about birth control, condoms, HIV and sexually transmitted infections. He said if Planned Parenthood does not continue to run the program, as it has for eight years, he does not know whether it will continue to exist in schools.
"My question would be, if it's not Planned Parenthood, why not?" he said. "Why shouldn't they deliver this content? I just really cannot understand why any politician would do what they're doing with this program when they've never actually seen it in play."
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 19 to 11. It now moves to a vote in the state House of Representatives.