By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Mississippi has one of the highest teenage birth rates in the nation, and its only sex education option in public schools is an abstinence-only curriculum that doesn’t give information about contraception.
A bill that passed the state House on an 84-35 vote Tuesday would give school districts the option of offering an “abstinence-plus” curriculum that would still encourage students to refrain from sex but would also give them information about birth control pills, condoms or other contraception.
Parents would have to give permission for their children to take the classes.
“I know it would be better if all this was being taught at home, but it’s not happening and we have a responsibility to do something about it. We have an opportunity to do something about it,” said Democratic Rep. Cecil Brown, chairman of the House Education Committee.
The bill specifies that schools would be banned from having any discussion of abortion as a way to prevent the birth of a baby.
Democratic Rep. John Mayo of Clarksdale said the bill is based on work done last summer by a pregnancy prevention task force. He said offering two different courses of study — abstinence only and “abstinence plus” — would allow educators to evaluate in five years which approach is more successful.
Mayo said children should be taught from a young age to resist peer pressure on issues such as drug use, shoplifting and engaging in sex outside marriage.
“Saying ‘no’ is a part of sex education,” Mayo said in arguing for the bill.
Mayo also said that under the “abstinence plus” curriculum, boys and girls would be separated during detailed discussions that might be embarrassing.
The House defeated a proposal by Democratic Rep. Gregory Holloway of Hazlehurst, who wanted to offer a $2,000 a year university scholarship to any student who graduates from high school without either getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant.
Holloway said teenage pregnancy has “ripped away at the social and moral fabric” of society, and young people should receive financial incentives for waiting to have children.
Opponents said little against the bill Tuesday, other than raising concerns that abortion might be discussed by teachers or school nurses.
Holloway held the bill for the possibility of more House debate before it can move to the Senate.
The bill is House Bill 837.