It's too soon to give up on updating South Carolina's 26-year-old sex education law. And there's no good reason to wait another year to pass legislation to do so.
Last week, a House subcommittee voted a discouraging 4-4 deadlock on a bill that would put some teeth in the current state sex ed protocol. It would require that health education teachers be certified to teach in that area. And it would clarify the way districts submit their health curricula for state scrutiny and support. At present, there is no standard, so students in many districts receive incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, information about their sexual health.
Some advocates of teaching abstinence from sex as part of health curricula, say that educating children about preventing pregnancies only encourages students to have protected sex.
The law would not change a teacher's ability to teach abstinence. But it would retain the requirement that students be taught medically accurate information on how to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases as part of the larger health curriculum.
While that has been part of the law for 26 years, it has been ignored or ineffectively handled in many districts where abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula are used.
And given that many teenagers do have sex and could benefit from knowing how to prevent pregnancy and disease, that instruction seems vital.
Some interpreted the recent subcommittee vote as a death knell for the bill. A tie vote is considered an "unfavorable report," which usually means it will just fade away.
But the full education committee could decide to take it up for debate anyway. And advocates for the bill believe that there is ample support among legislators to do so.
Indeed, several subcommittee members who voted "no" said they weren't necessarily opposed to the bill, but needed more time to review changes introduced at the 11th hour by Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Beaufort. Mr. Patrick's intent was to "perfect the language" of the bill, not to alter it substantially.
Surely no one in the S.C. House of Representatives wants teenagers in the state to engage in risky sex. Surely all would like to see the number of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases curbed.
The bill, introduced in 2013 by Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, and Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Six Mile, would equip the state's students with factual information about reproductive and sexual health so they can make responsible decisions.
Yes, that includes giving them thorough information about condoms. After all, that is one way to prevent pregnancies.
And surely we all want our teens to base serious decisions on factual information - in the context of worthy principles and moral values.