Louisiana Rep. Patricia Smith (D), a longtime champion of public school sex education, said during an interview with The Advocate published Monday that the lack of mandated state instruction on the issue is "really a form of child abuse."
After several previously failed efforts, Smith introduced HB 369 on March 10. The measure seeks to combat the state's high rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases by implementing "age appropriate" sex education standards in public elementary and secondary schools.
"It is important that we give our children medically factual information so that they can make the right decision," the Baton Rouge lawmaker told the Advocate.
Although present state law authorizes any secondary school to offer abstinence-focused sex education for students above the sixth grade, Louisiana lacks standardized sex education curricula. Sex education is currently banned in Louisiana elementary schools.
As of 2012, Louisiana's teen birth rate -- 43.1 births per 1,000 teen girls aged 15-19 -- has ranked as one of the highest in the nation. The state has also consistently experienced some of the country's highest STD rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2012 Surveillance Report.
Under Smith’s proposal, Louisiana schools are to stress that "abstinence is the most reliable way to prevent pregnancy" and STD transmission, in addition to providing information on human sexuality and open communication with parents, according to the bill text.
"Sex ed does promote abstinence," Smith said. "It's a major piece. It is not the only piece."
The measure also stated that "no part of sex education instruction shall in any way advocate or support abortion."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and social conservative groups, including the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Louisiana Family Forum, have expressed opposition to the measure on the grounds that parents should maintain exclusive control of their children’s exposure to sex education.
"These are decisions that are best made by parents and local communities, not state government," Jindal said in a prepared statement, according to The Advocate.
Smith's legislation would permit students to be excused from proposed sex education classes on the written request of a parent or guardian without academic or disciplinary penalties.
Similar proposals advanced by Smith were opposed by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2010 and blocked by the House Education Committee in 2012, falling one vote shy of the majority needed.
(h/t The Advocate)