The state of Texas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. After the overturning of Roe v Wade, school districts are revising their sex educations standards to shift away from abstinence-only policies.
While teen pregnancy has been steadily declining over the past few decades, Texas still possesses one of the highest rates of teen birth in the nation. Second only to Alabama, Texas has the highest rate of repeat teen pregnancies.
Texas is also home to one of the strictest abortion bans enacted after the overturning of Roe v Wade, which guaranteed access to abortion nationally. Without proper healthcare or comprehensive sex education, many have shown concern over how teens will obtain the knowledge to safely engage in sexual activities.
Now, Texas schools are making a change to “abstinence-plus” sex education. The new guidelines still value abstinence as the preferred form of birth control, but will teach teens about other forms of contraceptives that prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
A 2017 report by the Texas Freedom Network found that 58.3 percent of school districts taught abstinence-only sex education, 16.6 percent taught abstinence-plus , and 25 percent taught no sex education at all. With the new guidelines, schools will be allowed to teach beyond the state requirements at their own discretion.
The shift in standard marks the first instance in over 20 years where Texas has reevaluated its sex education policies. However, whether or not teens receive the lessons still relies on parental permission. While parents previously had to submit special requests to “opt out” of sex education, they now have to sign permission slips for their children and “opt in” for sex education lessons.
Despite the new policies, the Texas Board of Education kept in place standards that cement “there are risks associated with sexual activity and that abstinence from sexual activity is the only 100% effective method to avoid risks.” Texas law still requires that schools present abstinence as the "preferred choice" of contraception.
The vast majority of research concludes that abstinence-based education is largely ineffective, whereas comprehensive contraception sex ed is effective in not just preventing pregnancies, but in delaying sexual activity among teens. Texas' newest policies, while a step in the right direction, still fail to include consent, sexuality, or gender identity.
J.R. Chester is a program director for Healthy Futures of Texas, a nonprofit sexual health advocacy and education organization. She was also a teen mother, like her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother before her, none of whom were given the proper knowledge to prevent pregnancy, in school or at home.
“If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any,” Chester told NBC news. “Where are the parents supposed to get the knowledge from? Because they came through the same school system that didn’t teach sex ed, and all of a sudden they’re supposed to know what to teach their kids. We are trying to end that generational curse of being uneducated."