By Mylika Scatliffe
Fewer topics are more polarizing in the United States than abortion. It’s been legal since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, but that hasn’t stopped vehement, sometimes violent clashes between opposing sides of the matter.
The recent leak of the Supreme Court draft opinion advocating the overturn of decisions on abortion rights -effectively making it illegal- has led to nationwide protests, including some at the homes of Chief Justice John Robert and Justices Samuel Alito (who penned the draft opinion) and Brett Kavanaugh.
Passionate feelings regarding abortion, more commonly referred to as “pro-choice” and “pro-life,” are really part of a broader system of values and beliefs, particularly as it relates to sex education. Values and beliefs begin with what’s taught or even what’s not taught, within family and friend groups. Education broadens values and beliefs, which begins when individuals start school.
The history of sex education in the United States goes back about a century when reproduction and pregnancy were taught using handouts and pamphlets with vague and limited information.
“Thirty states and the District of Columbia require public schools teach sex education, 28 of which mandate both sex education and HIV education,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In addition, “thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia require
] students receive instruction about HIV.”
Several young ladies agreed to speak with the AFRO about how the topics of sex education and abortion are handled in high schools.
Piper Jordan, 17, of Baltimore, is a graduating senior who attended a public high school in Baltimore City. She believes a sex education curriculum would be beneficial in schools, particularly at the high school level. She had a half year of a health class that was combined with physical education. “We had a male teacher, the class was for one semester and most of the instruction centered around not doing drugs, although we spent some time on mental health as well. The sex ed portion was basically ‘use condoms.’ It was generally regarded as a joke.”
In the 1950s the American Medical Association (AMA) created a standardized sex education curriculum for public schools. The 1960s saw conservative and religious groups push back against sex education, arguing that teaching sex education encourages risky sexual behavior, and promoting education about abstinence only.
Sex education programming varies widely across the United States. Although almost every state has some guidance on how and when sex education should be taught, decisions are often left up to individual school districts, creating a patchwork of inconsistent policies and practices within states. This means that the sex education someone receives can come down to their school district or the school that they attend.
Sydney Green, 19, of Baltimore, had a self-taught health class in high school that lasted half the year. Sex education was not part of the curriculum although she believed it should have been. “I was blessed enough to have a comfortable enough relationship with my mother that we could get through these uncomfortable conversations about sex, but everyone doesn’t have that. Teens today are uneducated about sex, birth control and even their natural hormones but expecting abstinence is unrealistic,” said Green.
Tamara Stanford, 19, of Baltimore, believes sex education should be taught in schools because it’s part of life and school affords a neutral ground. “My mother would try to sit down and have ‘the talk’ with me and I would always avoid and resist because I just didn’t want to talk about sex with my mom,” said Stanford. “She eventually made me sit down and have the talk and wouldn’t let me avoid it anymore. I’m glad she did, but school with your teachers is different than at home with your parents; kids might be more inclined to listen without having to worry about being uncomfortable.”
Even while the vast majority of parents supports sex education, there are those that believe this topic is best left up to an individual’s family.
Kathleen Wells is a self-described 50–something year old liberal-turned-conservative woman and the host of a Los Angeles based radio talk show “The Naked Truth Report.” She is a member of Project 21, a national leadership network of Black Conservatives.
When asked her opinion about the role of sex education and abortion in schools Wells said, “Family is the most important institution in society and traditional values should be taught by parents. A mother should impart why it’s important to respect your body. The left introduced free sex and feminism in the ‘60s and when you give away sex for free, you’re devaluing yourself.”
All three of the young women in high school or college have definite thoughts about the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion leak, and what it might mean for young women like themselves in the future, if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Jordan, Greene, and Stanford all separately voiced similar views – that no one should be telling a woman what to do with her body.
- “If Roe v. Wade is overturned, that’s giving the government control over a woman’s body, and I don’t think that’s right.” – Sydney Green
- “Eliminating a woman’s choice to not bear a child when she’s not ready means she will take it into her own hands.”– Tamara Stanford
- “Women will start throwing themselves down the stairs.” – Piper Jordan
Baltimore City Public Schools did not respond to requests for comment. When asked for comment on how schools in the nation’s capital were addressing abortion, the following statement was provided by D.C. Public Schools:
“At D.C. Public Schools, health and physical education is fundamental to our work to prepare students for success in college and life. Through skills-based instruction, educators develop student health literacy so they can obtain, interpret, and apply the health information and services they need. Lessons focus on good communication, safety in relationships and growth and development, and lay a foundation that can support healthy relationships and healthy behaviors throughout a person’s lifetime.”