The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dobbs V. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — the ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade — violates our inherent right to bodily autonomy. As a 20-year-old female, this new reality is utterly terrifying.
Despite this tragic shift in federal policy, Connecticut has been on the frontlines of this issue, ensuring abortion remains legal and supported in the state. In May, Gov. Ned Lamont signed Public Act 22-19 which protects women traveling to Connecticut to receive abortions, and also protects healthcare professionals who provide abortions.
The state has established itself as a leader in reproductive freedom. Nevertheless, Connecticut has yet to utilize an essential strategy: comprehensive sex education.
According to a highly respected study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, comprehensive sex education is proven to reduce rates of teen pregnancy, sexually risky behavior, and sexually transmitted infections. However, despite these convincing medical findings, Connecticut does not require comprehensive sex education in public schools.
Instead, local school boards decide what is taught. Evidence shows that local control produces varied outcomes. For example, poorer school districts are at a disadvantage as their budgets may not allow for an extra program. Moreover, some school districts may opt for teaching abstinence-only sex education, which has not been proven to reduce teen pregnancy.
As a result of local control, as of 2020, only 54% of Connecticut secondary schools teach students all the critical sexual health topics recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Without a statewide mandate, individual schools can make specific policies about what is taught. Essentially, schools are not bound by the guidelines set by the CDC even though these guidelines cover all the essential aspects of comprehensive sex education.
Consequently, many students lack the information necessary to make smart and healthy decisions about sex, disease prevention, and contraceptives. Importantly, the skills taught in sex education are lifelong ways to protect women from unwanted pregnancy.
Once people learn information about boundaries, healthy relationships, sexual health, and contraceptives they can consistently make educated decisions about their bodies. These skills are not only important for pregnancy prevention but also for an individual’s sense of autonomy. All students benefit from sex education as the information taught allows them to make informed and confident decisions around their sexual health.
Connecticut has a relatively low teen pregnancy rate of 7.6 births per thousand females ages 15-19. However, this rate is higher than in neighboring states Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. Both Rhode Island and New Hampshire require sex education to be taught in school. This means that all students attending public schools are exposed to and taught the essential skills of sex education.
This data points to a clear correlation between mandated sex education and reduced teen pregnancy rates. While Massachusetts does not require sex education, research shows that 61.6% of secondary schools teach all 20 of the CDC’s suggested topics for comprehensive sex education, compared to 54% of schools in Connecticut. Even though there is no mandate, the correlation between access and reduced birth rates is evident.
Importantly, compliance with CDC guidelines is even more prevalent in Rhode Island and New Hampshire with 68.1% and 64.4% of schools teaching all 20 essential topics. The data suggested that a state mandate amounts to more schools teaching all the essential components for comprehensive sex education. Increased access to sex education is imperative to decreasing teen pregnancy rates.
Studies confirm that 60% of comprehensive sex education programs have been shown to reduce unprotected sex among teens. Education is a critical component of mitigating teen pregnancy; nevertheless, Connecticut has yet to fully utilize this valuable resource.
The Connecticut Department of Education has developed guidelines on Comprehensive Sex Education; however, these guidelines are just suggestions and not mandates.
The guidelines include important concepts such as human development, communication, decision-making skills, and extensive information on contraception. Even so, without a requirement for comprehensive sex education, the Department of Education cannot ensure this essential information is given to every student.
Education on sexual health, consent, and relationships enhances an individual’s power over their body by enabling them to make informed decisions. By mandating access to comprehensive sex education, the state can arm all students with the power to make decisions about their bodies.
The moment has come for Connecticut to take proactive and decisive action. With the nation’s hearts and minds focused on reproductive rights and personal autonomy, state politicians have a unique opportunity to establish positive change. By expanding comprehensive sex education to all of Connecticut’s students, young people will be better equipped to make informed choices about sexual intimacy and reproductive health at a time when the Supreme Court is intent on controlling their bodies. Currently, there is a formidable threat to legal access to abortions. Leading Republicans have already called for federal bans on abortions. Duke University projects that a total abortion ban would increase pregnancy-related deaths by 21%. With the future of reproductive freedom uncertain everywhere, it is critical that Connecticut invests in proactive pregnancy prevention strategies. Without safe and legal abortions, these measures could be the difference between life and death.
Lillian Ryan is a student at Trinity College.