The Transylvania Times -

By Jeremiah Reed
Staff Writer 

Bill Could Alter Sex Education Instruction - Brevard NC

 


A recent bill introduced into the North Carolina Legislature could drastically alter the information teachers are allowed to provide in sex education classes, including banning all instruction about emergency contraceptives.

House Bill 596 was introduced by N.C. Rep. Chris Whitmire on April 2. The bill, titled, “Reproductive Health & Safety Educ. Revisions” seeks to update the state’s Healthy Youth Act, which was passed in 2009.

Whitmire, who represents Transylvania, Polk and Henderson counties, serves as one of the bill’s primary sponsors. The bill has two primary objectives. The first would grant school districts more control over their sex education curriculum; the second would ban instruction on Plan B, or “any equivalent drug product” that “may cause spontaneous abortions.”

Levonorgestrel, also known as Plan B or “the morning-after-pill,” is an FDA-approved emergency contraceptive that prevents pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex. The FDA approved Plan B in 2009 for use without a prescription for women 17 and older and as a prescription-only option for women younger than 17. In 2013, the FDA expanded access to Plan B, offering the drug over the counter, without a prescription, to women of “child-bearing potential.”

In terms of curriculum, the bill alters the definition of what information could be included in sex education classes. The current version of the bill states that information conveyed during sex education must be “based upon scientific research that is peer reviewed and accepted by professionals and credentialed experts in the field of sexual health education.”

The proposed bill would strike language from that provision and alter the statement to read, “based upon scientific research that is peer reviewed and accepted by professionals and credentialed experts.”

Whitmire said while current legislation allows for some input into sex education curriculum at the local level, it tailors what can be considered. His bill, he said, would change that.

“My bill broadens this so values based curriculum can be considered and ensure that local community values are reflected in the halls of our schools,” Whitmire said, via email.

In addressing his opposition to Plan B being part of the sex education curriculum, Whitmire said he contests the assertion that Plan B is an emergency contraception and believes the drug has the potential to terminate pregnancies that have already occurred.

Under current legislation, sex education curriculums can include instruction on any FDA-approved contraceptive. The FDA has stated Plan B, which is supposed to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, is not effective in terminating existing pregnancies, a position that Whitmire contests.

“Research shows that Plan B, Preven, and the so-called ‘morning after’ pills can induce an abortion by preventing fertilized eggs from attaching to the uterine wall,” Whitmire said. “I and others do not support using half-truths in teaching our school children, and I certainly do not believe it is honest to teach that these drugs are only “contraceptives” when in fact they have other modes of action.”

“Half-truths” could be the biggest sticking point to Whitmire’s proposed legislation. An earlier portion of the bill states that sex education classes must provide “factually accurate biological or pathological information that is related to the human reproductive system.”

And while some research supports the position of Plan B causing “spontaneous abortions” there is also considerable research that contradicts that opinion.

A Princeton University study stated, “using emergency contraceptives… prevents pregnancy after sex. It does not cause an abortion.” A report issued in February 2013 by the American Society for Emergency Contraception stated that, with Plan B, “there is clear evidence that interference with ovulation is the primary mechanism of action,” and neither Plan B or other emergency contraceptives “disrupt an established pregnancy.”

The Mayo Clinic states emergency contraceptives work by, “delaying or preventing ovulation, blocking fertilization, or keeping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.”

However, Mayo also says, in reference to Plan B, that, “evidence strongly suggests that (Plan B) doesn’t keep a fertilized egg from implanting.”

While varying medical opinions could introduce a situation where there are different sex education classes providing contradictory information, House Bill 596 would squelch that possibility by not allowing any information regarding emergency contraceptives to be included in the curriculum.

Research

When asked if he could provide agencies or research supporting the position that emergency contraceptives can terminate existing pregnancies, Whitmire provided links to two direct sources.

The first was a report issued by the Charlotte Lozier Institute in January 2014 titled, “New Studies Show All Emergency Contraceptives Can Cause Early Abortion.”

The report states that, “some forms of ‘contraception’ have post-fertilization mechanisms of action (MOAs) that can cause the death of a human embryo. This is especially true with emergency ‘contraceptives.’”

An important detail in this debate is the difference of opinions on the definition of conception.

The Lozier report states the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists adopted the definition of conception as “the implantation of a fertilized ovum” in 1965. (The National Institutes of Health also holds that definition.)

The Lozier report criticizes the definition as a means to “obscure the reality that all hormonal contraceptives are potentially abortifacient,” and further states that, “for the rest of the world, fertilization and conception are synonymous and mark the beginning of a new living organism.”

The Lozier report lists three main forms of emergency contraceptives – Plan B, Paraguard T 380, and ellaOne.

The report states those contraceptives could have effects including: the potential to interfere with embryos that have yet to implant, preventing a woman’s uterus from providing nutrition to an already implanted embryo, slowing transportation of the embryo to the uterus resulting in an ectopic pregnancy (where pregnancy occurs outside the uterus, almost always resulting in the death of the fetus), and diminishing the levels of hormones needed to allow implantation.

The report also questioned much of the research behind Plan B citing “flawed methodology” used in studies to support a joint statement from the International Consortium of Emergency Contraception and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics that Plan B does not “prevent implantation.”

Whitmire’s second source was a paper published by the Family Research Council in 2009 titled, “Conceiving Pregnancy – U.S. Medical Dictionaries and Their Definitions of ‘Conception’ and ‘Pregnancy.’”

The paper evaluates four of the most popular medical dictionaries in the United States – Dorland’s, Stedman’s, Taber’s and Mosby’s – and looks at how those dictionaries define “conception” and “pregnancy.” The two theories on the position are whether those definitions are based on the moment when the male sperm fertilizes the egg of the female and produces a zygote, or whether the definitions are based on the fertilized egg implanting in the woman’s uterus.

The paper states, “there is no medical-scientific consensus in favor of implantation-based definitions of ‘conception’ or ‘pregnancy,’” and further states “the fertilization-based perspective is predominant in the medical dictionaries.”

Of the four dictionaries, Taber’s is the only one to subscribe to the implantation-based definition. Dorland’s and Mosby’s are both overwhelmingly supportive of the fertilization-based definition.

Stedman’s has wavered back and forth over the years but four of its last five editions – dating back to 1982, with the most recent being in 2006 – have relied on the fertilization-based definition.

The paper’s conclusion reiterates the position that there is no medical consensus on the implantation-based definition of conception and pregnancy, further stating that, “fertilization remains the benchmark and the majority position.”

House Bill 596 is currently being evaluated by the House Committee on Health and has yet to come to the floor for a vote.

However, Whitmire, who previously served on the Transylvania County Board of Education, including a stint as board chair, is confident in the bill and believes he has strong backing both at the state and the local level.

“I am not alone with the proposed minor changes included in HB 596,” Whitmire said. “Locally, I first encountered these concerns while serving on the school board and heard from numerous concerned parents, teachers, and community members who opposed the sweeping change formulated by Planned Parenthood and enacted in 2009.

“Presently, at the state level, the elements of HB 596 have solid support,” he said.

Another Bill

House Bill 596 isn’t the only medical-related bill being discussed by state legislators. House Bill 465, “Clarify & Modify Certain Abortion Laws,” which was introduced one day before House Bill 596, has also garnered significant attention.

House Bill 465 contained three significant components. The first would have banned doctors or employees at the University of North Carolina Medical School and East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine from performing, supervising, or even teaching about abortion procedures. The only caveat to the bill would involve situations of incest or situations where the mother’s life was possibly endangered.

Jennifer James, spokesperson for UNC Health Care, has stated neither medical school currently uses state dollars to perform abortions. While doctors are specifically referenced in the bill, medical students would be impacted the most by the legislation.

Both UNC and East Carolina’s medical schools are accredited by the Liaison Committee of Medical Education – the accrediting body for the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Medical Association. The Liaison Committee requires OB/GYN students to be educated in performing abortion procedures in order to receive their degree.

According to the UNC School of Medicine website, seven residents are accepted into the OB/GYN program every year. ECU’s website for their OB/GYN program didn’t say how many they accept each year, but the program currently has 20 residents.

Since House Bill 465 was introduced, however, the portion related to medical schools and OB/GYN students has been removed following pressure from the UNC System.

However, two surviving components of the bill would increase the waiting time before a woman could have an abortion from 24 to 72 hours and would require doctors performing abortions to document details about the procedure that would be sent to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Doctors performing an abortion after the 16th week of pregnancy would be required to fill out information such as the probable gestational age of the fetus, the measurements of the fetus, and an ultrasound image of the fetus.

Doctors performing procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy would be required to submit paperwork documenting, “the findings and analysis on which the physician based the determination that continuance of the pregnancy would threaten the life or gravely impair the health of the woman.”

The bill says such information would be for “statistical purposes only” and ensures “the confidentiality of the patient shall be protected.”

House Bill 465 passed last Thursday in a 74-45 vote that went entirely down party lines, with nearly every Republican voting in favor and every Democrat voting against. The only outlier was Paul Tine, a House Republican who represents Beaufort, Dare, Washington and Hyde counties. Tine voted against the bill.

House Bill 465 was secondarily sponsored by a number of Republicans, including Whitmire. He declined to comment on the proposed legislation and directed questions to the bill’s primary sponsors.

 
 

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