- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

RICHMOND — A House of Delegates discussion about the curriculum used in family-life education classes in Virginia schools turned into a debate yesterday over the “morning-after” pill, with one Republican lawmaker saying the bill was a “manipulation” to encourage teens to use the pill as a contraceptive.

In a 49-48 vote, the House defeated a bill that would have allowed public-school teachers to give their students information on how to prevent rape and the emergency contraception available if they become victims of the crime.

The legislation was sponsored by Education Committee Chairman James H. Dillard II, Fairfax County Republican. He said the bill was meant to educate, not to advocate for the use of the pill. The bill would have added the pill to the state’s Family Life Education curriculum guidelines, which already cover abstinence education and adoption as a way of handling unwanted pregnancies.

“This is a major problem facing women and young people in Virginia. …This is a vital piece of information that the students of Virginia should have,” Mr. Dillard said on the House floor, citing statistics that one in four women will be the victims of rape in their lifetime and that the average age of rape victims is 14. “The need for information on the problems of sexual assault [is] very important.”

But Robert G. Marshall, Prince William County Republican, called the bill a “manipulation” that promotes the use of the “morning-after” pill. Pro-life groups say the pill is another form of abortion.

“This is a backdoor way to get 14-year-olds to take the morning-after pill as a regular habit,” Mr. Marshall said. “I can understand sexual assault being discussed in a crime-prevention [class]. Why is this a part of family-life education?”

Mr. Dillard argued teens should learn about ways to avoid rape and learn their options if they are raped. He also said such education reduces the number of abortions. He was joined by supporters on both sides of the aisle.

“This is about making sure women who are sexually assaulted aren’t victimized a second time … by an unwanted pregnancy,” said Delegate Mitchell Van Yahres, Charlottesville Democrat.

Some Republicans argued in favor of the bill.

“I beg you to give us every opportunity to have whatever education is necessary,” said Delegate Harry R. Purkey, Virginia Beach Republican.

Nobody urged defeat of the bill, although Mr. Marshall tried unsuccessfully to have it sent back to committee.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies the “morning-after” pill as a contraceptive and is considering making it available without a prescription.

Not voting on the bill were Watkins M. Abbitt, Appomattox independent, and Republicans Joe T. May of Leesburg and John M. O’Bannon of Richmond.

Several Democrats voted against the bill.

Also defeated yesterday in a 35-55 vote was a bill authored by Delegate Kristen J. Amundson, Fairfax County Democrat, which would have required teachers to use “medically and scientifically accurate” information in health, physical and family-life education classes.

During debate, Republicans said the bill was unnecessary and asked whether schools were teaching false information.

Miss Amundson said the bill is necessary and stressed examples of how HIV information was updated last in 1992. She also said many classes still teach the four basic food groups instead of the food pyramid, a more-updated system designed to fight obesity.

“We have people who are presenting information that is at best outdated, and in some cases just flat wrong, and in some cases I think it’s dangerous to kids’ health,” she said. “There are perfectly good, scientifically accurate reasons to tell young girls to not be sexually active.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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