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50 Years After Roe, We Need Comprehensive Sex Education Matters More Than Ever

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On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute that criminalized abortion except to save the mother’s life. The decision in Roe v. Wade established a woman’s constitutional right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Yet, here we are in bodies that aren’t fully safe.

Before we could reach the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade landmark case, we took 50 steps backward last June. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s attack on reproductive rights and on the 50th anniversary of the landmark case, I want to amplify the importance of comprehensive sex education for our youth which includes teaching about reproductive rights and justice. 

In P-12 institutions today, it is up to individual schools and school districts to determine how they approach the topic of abortion in their curriculum. Some may teach about the legal and social context of Roe v. Wade, while others may choose not to address the topic at all. This is educational negligence. Our role as educators is to create spaces that empower youth by educating and collaborating with them so that they are their own best advocates. While it is ultimately up to individual educators to decide how to best approach topics like abortion in their classrooms, it is essential that all educators teach about reproductive rights and justice. 

Reproductive rights are a fundamental aspect of human rights. Every person has the right to make decisions about their own reproductive health. This includes the right to access safe and legal abortion services. By educating students about reproductive rights, schools can ensure they are aware of their rights and are able to make informed decisions about their reproductive health. When we neglect to educate our youth about their reproductive rights, we set them up for harmful outcomes. Students deserve comprehensive sex education.

Comprehensive sex education, which includes information about reproductive rights, has been shown to be effective in reducing unintended pregnancies and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). By providing students with accurate and comprehensive information about reproductive health, schools can help to promote the health and well-being of their students. Currently, our youth become adults who do not receive sex education that goes more in-depth than abstinence and general anatomy. Education that creates awareness and understanding is preventative and proactive. Yet, some block quality sex education based on a fear of what sex education may do to the minds of our youth. I wonder if these folks have had friends and families who hid their pregnancies for fear and attempted to go to abortion clinics. I have been in clinics with peers and have had peers hide a pregnancy. Neither is an easy task for a 15-year-old Black female.

Teaching about reproductive rights is fundamental to social justice and gender equality. Access to reproductive rights is often impacted by class, race, and ethnicity, and it is important for schools to address these issues in their curriculum. By teaching about reproductive rights, schools can help to promote understanding and empathy for the experiences of historically resilient groups. Roe v. Wade has been used to support the rights of women and girls with disabilities to access abortion. In the case of women and girls with disabilities, access to abortion can be particularly important because they may face additional barriers to accessing healthcare and may have increased risks of maternal morbidity and mortality.

It is important for P-12 institutions to teach about reproductive rights as part of comprehensive sex education. All womxn and people who can become pregnant deserve to feel safe in their bodies because reproductive rights are a fundamental aspect of human rights. Comprehensive sex education has been shown to be effective in promoting the health and well-being of students. On the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, teaching about reproductive rights is more critical now than ever. Instead of taking 50 steps backward, let’s make 100 strides forward by teaching our youth comprehensive sex education that includes reproductive rights and reproductive justice. 

Felicia Rutledge, Ph.D., serves as a Regional Multi-Tiered System of Supports Coordinator at the University of Nevada, Reno, supporting educators with the implementation of tiered supports. She is a special education consultant and coach, a Teach Plus Nevada Senior Policy Fellow and a Nevada Succeeds InspirEd Global Fellowship Alumna. 

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