For a time, it seemed as if House Bill 363, the brainchild of Rep. Bill Wright that aimed to ban discussion of contraception in sex education classes in public schools, would meet little opposition. Running under the innocuous title of Health Education Amendments, the bill sailed through the House by a 45-28 margin, then, to the surprise of some, went through the Senate comfortably 19-10.
But the bill drew national attention quickly — it would have been the first law of its kind passed in the United States, though a few countries, such as Pakistan, have similar prohibitions — and began to garner awareness within the state. Though opposition was slow to build in the month from when the bill was introduced on the House floor to its passage in the Senate, it finally became apparent that the measure was too radical for mainstream Utahns, even if it wasn’t too radical for many of their legislators. Both parents — in the form of the Utah PTA — and teachers — as represented by the Utah Education Association — voiced strong opposition to the bill.
That mainstream will was reflected when Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed HB 363 on Friday. The governor’s reasoning was that many parents want their children to receive more complete sex education in school and he did not want to take away that option. It was a brave veto, given that the bill was backed by the powerful far-right fringe of the Republican Party, and we applaud the governor for sticking up for his constituents.
While most Utahns favor sex education that stresses abstinence first, on a societal level we recognize that giving kids who may become sexually active accurate, scientific information benefits us all. Some kids have sex at a young age and no amount of sex education can prevent that. However, it can prevent some cases of unwanted pregnancies, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases. We must also recognize, again on a societal level, that though in a perfect world all parents would teach their kids about sex, we don’t live in a perfect world. And that’s where schools step in to fill the gap.
HB 363 was an inauspicious piece of legislation on which to introduce Wright to Tooele County, given that he’s in pole position to take the newly drawn District 68 House seat that includes the rural part of the county this fall. Assuming the abstinence-only bill stays dead, we’d prefer not to see similar legislation pandering to a radical few in the future.