COLUMBIA — Supporters of a bill updating South Carolina’s 25-year-old sex education law say students need accurate information about their bodies to make wise choices in a society filled with sexual messages. Opponents counter that the only message students should receive in school is to not have sex until marriage.

A hearing Wednesday by a House panel attracted a standing-room-only crowd that overflowed into the hallway. The subcommittee punted on the issue, postponing a vote.

House Education Chairman Phil Owens said he’s encouraging the sides to reach an agreement before another hearing’s scheduled.

The bill would require that South Carolina students receive medically accurate information on how to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The law would still require that reproductive health education stress the importance of abstinence. But it would no longer limit discussion on contraceptives to “future family planning.”

The measure also requires teachers be certified to teach the course, and it attempts to improve school districts’ compliance with the law. There’s no punishment in the law for noncompliance, and many districts don’t even fill out an annual, self-reported state survey on what’s taught and in what grades.

Accountability seems to hold the key for compromise. If schools aren’t abiding by the law now, Owens said, it makes no sense to pass another one.

Anderson 3 health educator Kristen Fouts said she gives fact-based, age-appropriate lessons that include discussions about anatomy and contraceptives. But in too many schools, she said, students are in classes overseen by someone with no background in science or left to educate themselves — through whatever means — and “that’s scary.”

Opponents, including Christian lobbying groups and other social conservatives, say any deviation from an abstinence-focused curriculum will encourage risky behavior.

“Students need to be taught responsibility. Sex education should teach students there’s only one way to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Abstinence is 100 percent effective. Condoms are not,” said Beverly Owensby, president of the Palmetto House Republican Women.

Some parents complained the curriculum used in their schools already is too sexually charged.

The bill’s Republican co-sponsors, including Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, rattle off South Carolina’s dismal statistics and high national rankings in an appeal to fiscal conservatives.

“If you’re satisfied with the level of teen pregnancy, of abortion, of the level of STDs and high-school dropouts, if you’re satisfied with government dependence and generational poverty, then vote against this bill,” said the main sponsor, Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Six Mile. “But if those things concern you, let’s do something about it.”