As GOP-majority state legislatures pass laws aimed at drastically restricting access to abortion care, Republican lawmakers are seeking to control education and public messaging about abortion, pregnancy, and reproductive health.
Ohio Republicans are pushing a measure that would create a public school curriculum infusing anti-abortion language into health and science education standards and restricting students’ access to information about their options when facing an unintended pregnancy. Oklahoma lawmakers passed similar legislation in 2016, but have not yet implemented the anti-abortion curriculum due to budget constraints.
House Bill 90, pending in Ohio’s House of Representatives, would require the state’s health department to design a curriculum centered on the “humanity of the unborn child” that provides detailed information about fetuses and gestation.
“What we see with this bill is an intent to start using language that motivates emotions, and using those emotions to advance a cause,” Diego Espino, vice president of community engagement and education at Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, told Rewire.News. “The bill instructs the Ohio Department of Education, which is supposed to be impartial and delivering the best education to our youth, be partial to be a political point of view by using this language.”
The measure would prohibit the curriculum’s writers from consulting with organizations that provide abortion and would ban school staff from referring students to abortion services.
“They are trying to exclude Planned Parenthood from providing guidance on how to develop a sex education curriculum when Planned Parenthood is the largest sex-ed provider in the country,” Espino said. “Here in Ohio, we serve about 40,000 people a year with our sex-ed program. They are creating a sex-ed curriculum that is supposed to benefit youth and are not allowing the experts to provide information on that.”
Ohio is the only state without statewide health education standards, while states with Democratic legislative majorities, like Colorado, pass laws requiring comprehensive sexual education. Espino said legislation like Ohio’s HB 90 would serve to provide students with limited sexual health information, which already varies widely across school districts.
“This bill provides students with very specific information about just one aspect of human sexuality, and it’s not preparing them, it’s not giving them the tools for other aspects of sexual life,” Espino said.
Oklahoma’s Republican-dominated legislature passed a similar law in 2016 called the “Humanity of the Unborn Child Act.” Another version of the same anti-abortion policy failed to pass in Florida in 2017.
The Oklahoma measure requires a statewide health and science curriculum detailing the stages of gestation, referring to a fetus as an “unborn child” and emphasizing carrying a fetus to term. But because of the state’s budget crisis in 2016, the funds to develop this curriculum have not yet been made available, said Tamya Cox-Touré, regional director of public policy and organizing at Planned Parenthood Great Plains.
“There has not yet been a line item in the budget to create the curriculum,” Cox-Touré told Rewire.News. “But we did see a surplus during the 2019 session, so I can see them coming back next year and saying, ‘We have the funds, so let’s do this.’”
Oklahoma’s budget crisis resulted from a reduction in the state’s top income tax rate and extended tax cuts for oil and gas companies, passed by Republicans in 2013. The decrease in tax revenue left Oklahoma with a budget deficit resulting in drastic cuts to social services and education. The state is rebounding after legislators passed a package of tax increases in 2018.
Oklahoma’s Humanity of the Unborn Child Act also required any public entity that is inspected by the state’s health department to display information in their establishment about resources pregnant women can turn to for help, “instead of ending a pregnancy,” Cox-Touré said. However, due to pushback from the restaurant and hotel industries, legislators amended the law in 2017 to require only abortion providers display such signage.
Both HB 90 in Ohio and Oklahoma’s Humanity of the Unborn Child Act state their intended purpose is an “abortion-free society.” However, not informing young people of all their options does little to prevent abortion and instead leaves people not knowing what to do or where to turn when they do face an unintended pregnancy, said Cameron Brewer, an educator with Planned Parenthood Great Plains.
“If we are restricting the information students have access, to then we are doing them a disservice as educators,” Brewer told Rewire.News. “My goal as an educator is to make sure my students have all the information they need to make the best decisions for them.”