We hear a lot about strong family values here in the Lone Star State, but Texas policymakers are creating barriers to resources young Texans need to maintain healthy relationships and start a family when they are ready.
While SB 8 is capturing headlines globally due to its increased restrictions on abortion for Texas women and all but eliminating access for some minors, the Texas Legislature is also restricting access to sex education and contraception — two proven strategies at preventing unintended pregnancy.
These new standards were guided by medical experts and include factual information for all Texas middle and high school students on topics such as contraception, sexually transmitted infections and healthy relationships at appropriate age levels.
However, in May, the Texas Legislature passed a law that made it harder for school districts to implement those standards and an “opt-in” provision requiring schools to secure written consent from parents or guardians before offering sex education.
Parents have always had the right to opt their kids out of any school instruction of which they don’t approve, but now any student whose parents simply miss the permission slip in the bottom of the backpack or email inbox will miss out on critical health information. The opt-in provision also restricts access to information on how to avoid pregnancy for the thousands of school-aged kids in the foster care system, whose parents no longer have legal guardianship and who already experience higher rates of teen pregnancy than their peers.
Recently, the Legislature went further, passing a bill making it harder for school districts to offer child abuse-prevention education in the classroom — a move that further threatens vulnerable youth in unhealthy relationships.
Older teens and those experiencing poverty have some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, but the Legislature has also failed to take cost-saving steps to increase access to birth control for this population. In fact, Texas is one of just two states in the nation that refuse to pay for birth control through the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
CHIP serves teens until they’re 19, so there are thousands of adults in Texas whose insurance program won’t cover their birth control. Despite data showing that paying for birth control would save significant amounts of state money by preventing hundreds of teen pregnancies each year, lawmakers didn’t pass a bill that would have fixed this glitch.
Teens who already have children also experience barriers to contraception. Under state law, a 17-year-old mother can legally consent to heart surgery for her baby, but she cannot give medical consent for her own birth control pills.
Unsurprisingly, Texas has the second-highest rate of repeat teen births in the nation.
So, in the face of (really) bad policy, what can be done to support young Texans? A lot.
School health advisory councils should make recommendations to school board trustees to implement high-quality sex ed in the classroom with well-trained educators. School boards and school district administrators should learn how to support their students amid these recent policy shifts. Parents and guardians should keep an eye out for those opt-in permission slips to make sure their children have access to information on how to stay safe and healthy.
Voters should make sure their elected officials support policies to ensure teens have access to preventive measures, such as sex ed and contraception. If Texas truly values strong families, we must give young Texans the resources they need to plan for them.
Evelyn Delgado is president and executive director of Healthy Futures of Texas, and a member of the Texas is Ready Coalition. Molly Clayton is executive director of the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and a member of the Texas Is Ready Coalition.