SPRINGFIELD – Illinois public schools that teach sex education will have to include information about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases instead of a curriculum focused solely on abstinence, according to a plan that cleared the state Senate on Wednesday.
The bill, which senators approved 37-21, was headed to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk. A spokeswoman said Wednesday that the Chicago Democrat supports it.
Current state law says the emphasis for schools that teach sex education should be on abstinence as the norm, and districts are allowed to opt out of teaching sex education completely.
The new legislation outlines that sex education in grades 6 through 12 would still teach abstinence, but include information on protection for safe sex and STDs. Districts would still have the option of not teaching it and parents could inspect teaching materials and opt out their children.
"Abstinence-only is not effective," Democratic Sen. Heather Steans, a bill sponsor, said during floor debate. "Abstinence-only education does not have the same impact."
She and others including Chicago Democratic Sen. Mattie Hunter said young people would be better served with all the information possible.
However, opponents — several Republicans and the conservative Illinois Family Institute among them — objected to the bill saying that abstinence-only programs teach valuable principles. Some lawmakers claimed the bill would affect school districts' local control.
Illinois Board of Education officials said they do not track how many of the roughly 860 school districts teach sex education since it's not required.
The bill was praised by Planned Parenthood, which pointed to the high STD rate among Illinois teenagers.
Chlamydia cases among 15 to 19 year olds accounted for 35 percent of all reported cases in Illinois, according to 2011 state Department of Public Health data, the latest available. Gonorrhea cases among teens in that same age range accounted for 33 percent of all reported cases in Illinois.
"The goal of any top quality sexual health education program should be to help young people make responsible, healthy decisions," Carole Brite, president and CEO of Illinois' Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. "Studies show that sex education that covers contraception and disease prevention results in teens who (are) more likely to delay sexual activity and use protection when sexual activity does occur."