A bill for comprehensive sexual health education in Illinois (HB 2675) moved out of House Human Services committee on March 13 by a vote of 9-6 and awaits a full House vote.
The AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) is part of a statewide partnership that has been advocating heavily for this legislation for four years.
Weve lobbied on it, engaged lawmakers, written articles, held town-hall meetings, and published op-ed articles to gain support for this important piece of legislation, said Ramon Gardenhire, Director of Government Relations at AFC.
HB 2675 aims to modernize Illinois sex education law and create a standard for existing sexual health education courses and would require existing sex education programs to teach complete, medically accurate, and developmentally and age-appropriate content. The bill would require school districts that choose to teach sex education to include instruction about abstinence and contraception, as a means of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS.
The bill, if enacted, wouldnt require every school or classroom to teach sex education; it would require those that do to adopt a comprehensive approach. HB 2675 ensures more uniformity in what is being taught across the state, by codifying that educators use medically accurate, age appropriate, complete information.
Currently, sex education is not required in Illinois. But school districts that include it in their curricula must teach abstinence. Individual school boards can decide to incorporate lessons on birth control and contraceptionbut they dont have to. This approach might encourage young people to refrain from having sex until marriage, but its inadequate, said Evany Turk, an advocate for the Illinois Alliance for Sound AIDS Policy.
Abstinence hasnt worked because there are a lot of high school students who are pregnant, Turk said. A lot of high school students are still contracting STDs and STIs [sexually transmitted infections], and the numbers show that these diseases are on the rise, which proves abstinence-only education does not work.
She also noted that HIV has increased recently among people 16 to 24.
Backers of the House bill, sponsored by Rep. Camille Y. Lilly (D-Chicago) with 20 co-sponsors, hope to reverse these trends.
Opponents are operating on misinformation, Gardenhire said. Some people believe that we want to teach kindergarteners and third graders about condoms. That simply is not true. This bill only pertains to children in grades six through 12. Its also age-appropriate, meaning that information given to 12th graders wont be the same as that given to sixth graders.
Moreover, the legislation has room for parents to remove their child from sex education courses for any reason without penalty.
Another concern opponents to the bill argue is that teaching young people about contraception will encourage sex; however according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, Illinois has the 25th highest pregnancy rate in the U.S. for teens ages 15 to 19, suggesting that abstinence falls short of this objective.
Gardenhire adds, Students in grades 6-12 need information and education to make healthy and responsible decisions about all aspects of their sexual health. This education empowers teens with the best prevention tools.
Moreover, comprehensive sex education does not encourage people to have sex. Comprehensive sex ed may help adolescents make a better-informed decision, Turks said.
HB 2675 has the ability to empower young people with resources, but the bill is looking for more support.
HB 2675 needs 60 votes to get out of the House before it is sent to the democrat-controlled Senate, which passed this exact bill last year. With a handful of new legislators in office this year, things are already looking up for HB 2675.
Weve been advocating for this legislation for the past four years, Gardenhire said. This has been a major priority for us, and were happy to see it gather steam like this in the House.
Take action by signing this petition and encouraging lawmakers in the House to continue to support this important bill. Emailed signed petitions to Lucy Baglin, AFCs Policy Coordinator, who will forward them en masse to Springfield.