Florida legislators announced in January that they have proposed a bill amending the state’s sexuality education law. The bill, titled the Florida Healthy Teens Act, would require Florida public schools receiving state funding to provide comprehensive, medically accurate, age-appropriate information about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) during sexuality education classes.1
Currently, Florida law states that students must earn credits in “life management skills,” which includes abstinence, family life, and the consequences of teen pregnancy. Florida has the fifth highest teen pregnancy rate among states and was third in the nation in the number of AIDS cases in 2005.2 Approximately $10.7 million in federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funds was spent in Florida in Fiscal Year 2006, making it second only to Texas in the amount of federally funding for these programs.
The new legislation, SB 848 and HB 449, would require schools to teach abstinence as the only sure way to prevent pregnancy or STDs. However, beginning in sixth grade, students would also learn about the “health benefits and side effects of contraception.”3
State Senator Ted Deutch, sponsor of the Florida Healthy Teens Act, stated that abstinence is the “important message to start” but “it’s not simply enough to…hope that’s the only message that’s necessary.”4 Recent research supports this conclusion, including a survey about sexuality education curricula conducted by the University of Florida which revealed a wide disparity in the quality and content of information offered to students.5
The Senate version of the Healthy Teens Act was referred to the Education Pre-K - 12; Children, Families, and Elder Affairs; and Health Policy Appropriations committee. The House version of this bill is in the Schools & Learning Council committee.
Adrienne Kimmell, Executive Director of Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, stated about the Healthy Teens Act in Florida, “We have an extremely anti-choice House and mixed Senate so we definitely have an uphill battle. That said, we are working hard to get a hearing on the bill in the House and Senate and have bipartisan support for the bill with 20 co-sponsors in the House and 5 co-sponsors in the Senate.”
William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS, concluded, “Florida legislators are making the right move in standing up for Sunshine state youth who deserve honest, comprehensive sexuality education.”
- “For Policymakers,” The Healthy Teens Campaign, accessed 11 February 2008, <http://www.healthyteensflorida.org/for-policymakers>.
- “Teen Pregnancy and Birth Rates in the United States,” The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, February 2004, accessed 11 February 2008, <http://www.teenpregnancy.org/resources/data/pdf/stbyst03.pdf>.
“Closing the Gap- HIV/AIDS,” Florida Department of Health, 2007, accessed 11 February 2008, <http://www.doh.state.fl.us/Minority/CTG/HIV_AIDS.htm>.
- David Royse, “Proposal: teach abstinence, but also contraception,” The Florida Times-Union 8 January 2008, accessed 11 February 2008, <http://www.jacksonville.com/apnews/stories/010808/D8U206O02.shtml>.
- Jill Pease, “Sex Education in Florida Schools Varies Widely, not available to all students,” University of Florida News, 5 November, 2007, accessed 11 February 2008, <http://news.ufl.edu/2007/11/05/sex-ed/>.