By Sam Grover
Freedom From Religion Foundation
Arizona has an ambiguous, poorly-drafted law on the books that forces public schools to promote childbirth and adoption as preferred options to abortion for unwanted pregnancies in all of their programs and instructional materials. Here’s the actual law’s text, passed in 2012, in its entirety:
A. In view of the state’s strong interest in promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion, no school district or charter school in this state may endorse or provide financial or instructional program support to any program that does not present childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.
B. In view of the state’s strong interest in promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion, no school district or charter school in this state may allow any presentation during instructional time or furnish any materials to pupils as part of any instruction that does not give preference, encouragement and support to childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.
From a legislative interpretation perspective, this bill is a nightmare. In their collective fervor to draft a bill that would placate religious anti-choice constituents, Arizona legislators apparently forgot to read what they were voting for.
This bill requires all school programs, presentations, and materials to give preference to childbirth and adoption. Not all biology materials, which would be bad enough. Not all presentations in science class, which would be over the top. All materials. All presentations.
If this law were followed, every geometry lecture would begin with teachers reminding students that if they become pregnant, Arizona prefers that they carry the pregnancy to term. There would be no gym class dodge ball without first huddling up and reminding everyone that, according to the state of Arizona, abortion is always an inferior option to gestating for 40 weeks. Every school lunch program would be forced to print anti-choice messages on the side of its milk containers.
Okay, that last one is a stretch, but you get the picture. The law is terribly constructed. Which is probably why Arizona’s public schools have mostly been ignoring it for the past few years.
But not Gilbert Public Schools, a Phoenix suburb with a high Mormon population. Recently GPS has been citing the law as an excuse to promote childbirth, adoption, and abstinence to its students. This year, GPS’s students in high school science were told to turn in their textbooks to their teachers. Upon getting the textbooks back, students discovered this sticker affixed to the books:
“The Gilbert public school district supports the state of Arizona’s strong interest in promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion. The district is also in support of promoting abstinence in the most effective way to eliminate the potential for unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. If you have questions concerning sexual intercourse, contraceptives, pregnancy, adoption or abortion, we encourage you to speak with your parents. A.R.S. § 15-115 A.R.S. § 15-716.”
The stickers were added this year after a lawyer from the Orwellian-named conservative Christian advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom told the school board it needed to make the change. According to USA Today, the attorney told the school board that “This is not an ambiguous law,” which is just laughable. There is no reason to think that these stickers are necessary or legal.
Arizona’s law may be absurd, but the school district is also going well beyond what that law requires. Nowhere does either cited law require the school district to state that abstinence is “the most effective way to eliminate the potential for unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.” That’s not even accurate!
It’s not surprising that GPS is taking it upon itself to promote abstinence and alternatives to abortion to its students. This is the same school board that voted to reinstate divisive religious prayers at its school board meetings, despite a complaint from FFRF pointing out the illegality of the practice.
The school district has crossed the line here and is exposing itself to a potential lawsuit from any teacher or student who objects to this shameless promotion of the anti-choice agenda. But confusion and inappropriate propaganda are foreseeable outcomes when religious guides public policy.
Here’s a tip, Arizona: if you want accurate, scientifically relevant information taught to your students, let science teachers teach science. If you want your kids to receive medically inaccurate nonsense, take them to church. But do not bring church into the public schools.
And for all you Arizona students out there, here’s some information on abortion.
FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. For more information and a copy of our paper, Freethought Today, please click here.