In January, Live Action News addressed Planned Parenthood’s express intent to fight abortion restrictions at the state level in 2021. One of those legislative goals is passage of the REACH Act in Illinois, which mandates comprehensive sex education for public school and charter school students from Kindergarten through 12th grade. This legislation contains multiple concerning elements, and given Illinois’ history of “leading the way” in progressive laws in general and abortion laws specifically, the nation would do well to take notice.
The REACH Act was first proposed in February 2020 by Democratic lawmakers State Senator Ram Villivalam and House Representative Kathleen Willis. On its face, the Act appears fairly innocuous, emphasizing “respecting others, identifying trusted adults [that students] can rely on for guidance and support, and personal safety,” according to one news report. But the actual text of the Act contains concerning elements.
Planned Parenthood lobbies for REACH Act
Perhaps the most damning thing that can be said for the REACH Act is that Planned Parenthood is lobbying hard for it, given the organization’s history of creating and promoting problematic sexual education programs.
A former sex educator for Planned Parenthood linked Planned Parenthood’s own sex ed programs with increased rates of sexually transmitted infections and abortions. While Planned Parenthood’s website is notoriously short on facts, lacking any quotations from or references to the actual content of the REACH Act, the corporation’s advocacy page reads, “Right now, 30 states require sex education in schools — and Illinois isn’t one of them. Illinois students need and deserve comprehensive, inclusive, and age-appropriate instruction that will help them be safe and healthy at all ages.”
If safety and health are the goals for Illinois’ schoolchildren, they would do well to stay far away from Planned Parenthood.
The issue of “consent”
The REACH Act places heavy emphasis on “consent,” which it defines as “knowing, affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in specific interpersonal, physical, or sexual activity at any given time.” While the Act goes on to specify myriad, drawn-out details of “consent,” research on college-age men and women has consistently shown that “consent” remains a notoriously murky concept at best.
Researchers at the University of Tennessee noted that in real life consent is far from cut-and-dried for women in particular. The researchers found that even with all the “rules” around consent in place, women still frequently wound up “feeling obligated to submit to unwanted sex acts for a variety of reasons, including: feeling that consent was implied through earlier actions, believing that submitting to a sex act is necessary for relational maintenance, or fearing violent or non-violent repercussions.”
A 2020 literature review found that even a ‘yes’ to sex may not, in fact, mean ‘yes.’ How reasonable is it to expect pre-teens and teens to navigate all these landmines when even college-age young adults can’t get it right?
“Consent” as a sacred cow of sex ed advocates makes sense in a world that refuses to acknowledge any type of sexual behavior as unhealthy. The REACH Act encourages “the promotion of positive sexuality, the reality that there is a range of healthy behaviors, and students should feel positive about sexual behaviors that are consensual, affirming, and pleasurable.”
What about sexting, so long as it meets the consensual/affirming/pleasurable criterion? The Act requires education on the possible negative results of sexting, but stops short of condemning it altogether.
Elsewhere, the Act seems to imply that consent is not categorically possible for the large majority of students receiving sex education. “A person cannot consent to sexual activity if that person is unable to understand the nature of the activity or give knowing consent due to certain circumstances that include but are not limited to… III) the person is a minor.”
Ignoring the dangers of early sexual activity
The emphasis on consent and reticence to condemn any sexual behavior short of clearly coercive acts ignores the fact that early sexual activity correlates with multiple negative health outcomes, especially for females.
According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, “Retrospective reports of early sexual debut have been correlated with a greater number of sexual partners, lower levels of condom use, a greater chance of unintended pregnancy and a higher risk of self-reported STDs, as well as with other risk behaviors, including weapon-carrying and drug use.7”
This doesn’t appear to be a concern for the drafters of the Act, despite acknowledging in their preamble that “[t]he leading health and education organizations support sex education that includes information about both delaying sexual activity and contraceptive use.” The Act never mentions delaying sexual activity in the main body of the document.
Consequences of hormonal birth control use
While the Act mandates that students be educated on “the benefits of contraception, condoms, and barrier methods to avoid pregnancy and how to effectively use each method,” there is no mention of the significant health risks teenage girls assume when they go on the Pill or other methods of birth control.
These risks include increased risk of life-threatening blood clots, even in young women with no other risk factors, as well as elevated risk of new-onset depression and suicidal ideation. Encouragement of routine birth control use in teen girls also implies that their natural rhythms are inherently broken and need to be altered, suppressed, or destroyed. This education fails to communicate that their fertility is actually a sign of health and a gift.
When they hear this type of messaging over and over, is it any wonder that so many girls are deeply uncomfortable in their own skin?
Education on pregnancy, adoption, and abortion
One section of the text is a giant question mark for pro-life parents, as it mandates that students receive “unbiased information and non-stigmatizing information about the options regarding pregnancy, including parenting, adoption, and abortion.”
It is unknown who will be providing this information. Will a pro-life person educate on pregnancy and stigmatize abortion? Or will a pro-abortion person educate on abortion and stigmatize pregnancy and/or adoption? Will students learn the truth about abortion and what it does to preborn human beings? Given the fact that Planned Parenthood supports this sex ed, it is highly unlikely.
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