When the designation of Indiana Senate Bill 1 was reserved for Sunday alcohol sales, Hoosiers should have recognized the bar was set low for legislative achievements this year. But we shouldn't have to accept backsliding, which is what the General Assembly is set to do with approval of Senate Bill 65. The measure requiring parents or guardians to grant express permission for sex education threatens the real progress Indiana has made in reducing its teen pregnancy rate.
Indiana's teen birth rate is at its lowest recorded: 23.5 per 1,000 females age 15 to 19. Why would lawmakers want to risk turning back?
SB 65, authored by Auburn Republican Dennis Kruse, passed the Senate on a mostly party-line vote. The original bill prohibits public schools from teaching sexuality education to students without the written consent of a parent or guardian. The House Education Committee has amended the bill to make it less objectionable – schools would have to send consent forms to parents on two occasions. If they do not respond, the students can be included in sexuality education classes.
The state now has an opt-out requirement for instruction, although only one notice is required. The state also requires of schools that choose to teach human sexuality that abstinence be the “expected standard” and they must instruct students that it is the only surefire way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Research shows abstinence-only instruction is not effective, of course, and Indiana's data confirm it. While the teen birth rate has declined more than 61 percent since its highest point – in 1991 – the state had the 17th highest birth rate among the states and the District of Columbia for 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Adolescent Health.
The consequences of not teaching effective sexuality education are steep:
• Teen parents are most likely to be socioeconomically disadvantaged.
• The majority of the state's chlamydia and gonorrhea cases occur in youth and adults younger than 25.
• In 2016, 25 Hoosier youth age 19 or younger were newly diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.
• More than 9 percent of Indiana mothers age 20 or younger delivered low-birthweight infants, who are at higher risk for infant mortality.
Indiana's modest approach to sex education instruction has been effective. In Allen County, the teen birth rate fell from 33.9 percent in 2011 to 28.7 percent in 2015. In Kruse's own DeKalb County, the rate fell from 36.5 percent to 30.6 percent in 2015.
And it's no coincidence that the lowest teen birth rate is found in Hamilton County, at 4.9 percent – Hamilton also has the highest level of educational attainment in the state.
Why would Indiana lawmakers want to discourage the kind of sound, research-based education that leads to better outcomes for all Hoosiers?
Why would they want to backslide on the state's progress?