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Tennessee Bill Regulating Family Planning Curriculum Heads to the Governor

Chas Sisk

A bill that would reinforce the state’s abstinence-focused curriculum in schools is heading to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature. But its sponsors backed away from a provision that would have required parents to give permission before students’ could accept contraceptives in schools.

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Janice Bowling of Tullahoma and Republican Rep. John Ragan of Oak Ridge, Senate Bill 1392/House Bill 577 aligns with what is already the practice in Tennessee schools: It requires schools to state that while contraceptives may prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, only abstinence eliminates the risk entirely. 

But opponents worry that abstinence-focused teaching may prevent students from knowing all their options. Memphis Democrat London Lamar said she opposes any limits on sex education. 

“We should make sure that we keep our laws evidence-based, give teens options because no matter how we legislate they are going to do what they’re going to do anyway,” said Lamar. 

The measure says all family planning curriculum will need to be reviewed by the local school board to ensure that it is medically accurate, age-appropriate and aligned with the “academic standards of the state.”

The law does not prohibit teaching on contraceptives, but it does allow guardians to review family planning curriculum. They may choose to opt their children out of family planning teaching if they feel it’s not appropriate.

The bill originally aimed to restrict the distribution of contraceptives within schools, but was amended once analysts warned that it could potentially cost the state its federal family planning funding. According to a legislative analysis, Tennessee would have lost $6.7 million a year.

Lee’s desk is the final step to the bill’s passage — where he will likely sign it into action.