Editor’s Note: This story was first published on New Hampshire Bulletin.
CONCORD — After the Executive Council voted on Tuesday to reject a sex education program aimed at reducing teenage pregnancies, a spokeswoman for Senator Jeanne Shaheen said she was working to replace funding. And Democratic Councilwoman Cinde Warmington said she is speaking to the entire federal delegation to do the same.
“These programs help youth stay healthy by providing basic sex education, and they shouldn’t be politicized,” Shaheen spokesman Sam Paisley said in an email.
The delegation took a similar stance earlier this year when it secured $1.42 million for low-cost reproductive health care after the Executive Council voted to cut those funds.
In Tuesday’s 3-2 vote, the council rejected two contracts that have funded a decade-long after-school sex education program.
After the vote, a spokesman for Amoskeag Health in Manchester, one of the two organizations chosen by the state to teach the sex education curriculum, said they must end their program without a state contract. The TLC Family Resource Center in Claremont could not be reached immediately, but Executive Director Stephanie Slayton told the Bulletin in October that it had already canceled its fall sex education classes and would have to cancel the remaining classes without funding.
Only Warmington and Republican Councilwoman Janet Stevens voted for the $682,000 funding. The vote came a few weeks after Republican councilmen voted to postpone a vote for the fourth time. They have raised concerns about parental involvement and what they see as inappropriate content, including defining abstinence as the only sexual activity that can result in pregnancy.
“It is outrageous that these programs are on the brink of collapse due to the extreme ideology of the Republican-controlled Executive Council and poor understanding of reproductive health,” Paisley said.
The state Department of Health and Human Services contracts with Amoskeag Health and the TLC Family Resource Center because their communities’ teen pregnancy rates, 18 per 1,000 teens in Manchester and 14 per 1,000 in Sullivan County, are nearly three times higher than the 5.4 % of State Rating.
The Personal Responsibility Education Program, which has been in existence for a decade, deals with abstinence, the reproductive process, sexually transmitted diseases, gender identity, and relationship and decision-making skills, among other things.
The program is distinct from the sex education curriculum taught in public schools and is available to persons ages 10 to 19 and pregnant or parenting persons up to the age of 21 who have been trafficked.
The three councilors who voted against the contracts Tuesday, David Wheeler, Ted Gatsas and Joe Kenney, previously voted in favor. Kenney said Tuesday that he doesn’t think the current contract is “exactly” the same as the contract he voted for several years ago, but he hasn’t found any discrepancies as of the deadline.
Wheeler, Kenney and Gatsas did not object to the funding during Tuesday’s meeting. In subsequent interviews, Wheeler and Kenney said they believe the program limits parental involvement and they raised concerns about the age appropriateness of the material taught.
After the meeting, the two said they had asked the Ministry of Education to review the curriculum; Wheeler said he wanted an alternative “that respects the parent’s position in the family as head of the family.”
In an email, Department of Education spokeswoman Kimberly Houghton said the department had held informal discussions with councillors, but had not yet received a formal request to review the curriculum. “Once a formal request has been made, (the department) will determine the scope and process for the review, including next steps,” she said.
Parents must give their child permission to participate, but Wheeler says the curriculum states that information students share during the program will be kept confidential. (The State Department of Health and Human Services made the curriculum available to council members, but told the Bulletin that it does not have the right to share proprietary materials beyond that.)
Wheeler and Kenney said they asked the Department of Education to review the curriculum for age appropriateness and identify alternative curriculums. Wheeler said he wants the department to “see what’s out there that would respect the parent’s position as head of the family.”
Wheeler also raised objections to the definition of abstinence within the curriculum developed by the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. He said it only includes sexual activity that can lead to pregnancy. “I think the deceptive thing about this curriculum is that they present it as an abstinence-based program,” Wheeler said. “I don’t think that’s abstinence.”
Kenney said he has no objection to sex education for high school students but has reservations about offering it to middle school students as well.
“I think the curriculum needs to be age appropriate,” he said. “We all took biology classes in second year. We all did sex education in biology class. The girls and boys were in separate rooms and the teacher explained to them all about the birds and the bees and so on.”
Kenney said he believes students are exposed to inappropriate “salacious” material at a young age and said elements of the curriculum worry him. When asked for examples, Kenney referred a reporter to Wheeler.
“Children grow up too quickly and are exposed to too much during those formative years when they should be focusing on their school, friends, community, sports and social interactions,” he said. “That has to be the focus.”
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Liz Canada, advocacy manager for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, said the vote puts the state’s health outcomes at risk.
“Government officials should work together to ensure the people of New Hampshire have access to the support, resources, education and health care they need to make the best decisions for their lives and families,” Canada said. “However, the majority of the Council is solely focused on taking reproductive health care away from Granite Staters, as evidenced by this vote to reject funding for sex education and four previous votes to reject family planning programs that cover birth control, cancer screening, and STI screening and treatment.”
Canada continued, “By eroding the family planning program and refusing to routinely fund out-of-school sex education, the Executive Board continues to jeopardize New Hampshire’s ability to reduce our state’s rates of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases while improving the landscape of reproductive health care.” is in chaos across the country over Supreme Court decision Roe v. overthrow Wade.”