Recently, Kansas voters soundly rejected a referendum that would have ensured more abortion restrictions in the solidly red state. This led to predictions that conservatives may pay a price in upcoming elections for the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization, which undid the constitutional protection for abortion rights long established by Roe v. Wade. But while abortion debates grab headlines, for many women, especially poor ones, the battle for reproductive justice begins in the classroom, with the fight for comprehensive sex education.
Only 29 states, and Washington, D.C., require that sex education be taught, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Only 16 states require that the information taught in sex education be medically accurate. Meanwhile, 39 states mandate that sex education must cover abstinence, with 28 of those states requiring that abstinence be stressed. Before the Dobbs ruling, that meant that plenty of young people were not being provided with sufficient tools and resources to avoid unplanned pregnancies. In a post-Roe world it means students will have increasingly limited options should an unplanned pregnancy occur.
THE BATTLE over sex education in Texas, which has historically had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, is being fought by people like Abril Vazquez, whom I first met while working on my 2018 documentary “Reversing Roe.” Vazquez grew up in a Texas community where public schools and the local government emphasize abstinence-only education over comprehensive sex education. After becoming an unwed mother twice while still in her teens, Vazquez has spent much of her adult life working to have Texas provide more complete sexual education to high school students in the state.