George Boardman: Was there a political agenda behind hiring LivingWell to teach sex ed? | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: Was there a political agenda behind hiring LivingWell to teach sex ed?

George Boardman
Columnist

Observations from the center stripe: Blackout edition

NID gets a gold star for keeping the water flowing during the power outage and Caltrans gets one for keeping the traffic signals working on Highway 49 … ADD BLACKOUTS to the obstacles that won’t stop mail carriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds … THANKS TO the natural gas some politicians want to get rid of, we were able to cook normally and have hot water during the outage ... NOW I’M glad our daughter dumped her camping gear at our house, especially the Coleman lamps … LOP IS an AM radio dead zone when it comes to stations in Auburn and Grass Valley, but Sacramento’s no problem … THE LONG lines at the Chevron station at Highway 49 and Combie Road reminded me of the Arab oil embargoes … A POX on the bozos who raced through intersections while other motorists patiently waited their turn … PG&E HAS erected barricades in front of its headquarters in San Francisco. I wonder why …

One of the things that becomes apparent after you’ve lived in western Nevada County for awhile is that there are a lot of fans of bad science in our quaint little community.

There seems to be an endless number of alternative medicine providers, many of them offering procedures and nostrums that would never pass a rigorous scientific evaluation. Then there’s the anti-vaccination crowd, and an energetic minority that is convinced 5G technology will give everybody brain cancer.

Now comes word that an organization that — shall we say — has a very narrow, doctrinaire view of the subject has been teaching sex education in our two largest high schools for several years.

The organization in question is LivingWell Medical Clinic of Grass Valley, one of 300 crisis pregnancy centers in the state that provide pregnancy tests, information about adoption, financial assistance for baby clothes and supplies, and counseling services that strongly discourage abortion.

As for its attitude toward pre-marital sex, LivingWell is a strong supporter of abstinence, a position that doesn’t comport with the real world we live in. Apparently “Just say no” didn’t die with Nancy Reagan.

While I never attended any of the classes taught by LivingWell’s representatives, I have to believe these firmly held positions influenced the information provided Nevada Union and Bear River students before district administrators decided to use district teachers to conduct the classes.

Administrators said the decision was made in part to ensure the district conforms to the California Healthy Youth Act, which requires comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education in middle and high schools, and that “abstinence-only instruction is not permitted.”

Brett McFadden, superintendent of the Nevada Joint Union High School District, told The Union that organizations the district partners with — like LivingWell — are carefully vetted. “We want to make sure there’s no particular bias,” said McFadden.

You have to wonder how thorough the vetting was in the case of LivingWell, which has been in the headlines since passage of California’s Reproductive FACT Act in 2015. Among other things, the law required clinics like LivingWell to post in a conspicuous place information about the availability of family planning and low-cost abortion services in California.

Six days after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation and more than two months before it became law, LivingWell joined crisis pregnancy centers in Humboldt and Monterey counties to file suit to declare the act unconstitutional and bar its enforcement.

The FACT Act was passed in response to complaints that crisis pregnancy centers employ deceptive advertising, and confuse and even intimidate women who think they are going to receive more neutral abortion counseling. Many allegedly use scare tactics, such as suggesting the risk of getting breast cancer increases after an abortion, and that abortion is a high-risk procedure that can result in infection and death. (Neither is true.)

LivingWell states on its website that it does not provide abortion services or referrals, and alleged in its lawsuit that the FACT Act violates its freedom of speech and assembly, free exercise of religion, and two sections of the state constitution by compelling it to disseminate a message that is inconsistent with its religious commitments.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the FACT Act, carving out a First Amendment exception for what it deemed “professional speech.” The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which represented 135 California clinics — including LivingWell — in the suit, appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected the FACT Act by a 5-4 majority.

Dan Frisella, assistant superintendent of the district, said the district has received complaints from staff members and parents about what they called LivingWell’s biased teaching in the past, but this would not be a surprise if proper vetting was performed.

As far back as 2006, a Congressional investigation known as the Waxman Report found that crisis pregnancy counselors often used scientifically discredited arguments about heightened risk of suicide, breast cancer and infertility after an abortion. It’s part of a strategy to delay a woman’s choice for abortion until it’s almost impossible to obtain one.

LivingWell was teaching sex education classes before McFadden became superintendent and he deserves credit for ending the relationship, but you have to wonder what previous superintendents and the school board thought they were accomplishing when they engaged the clinic. Is this another example of trying to politicize education? If the people making these decisions weren’t familiar with the message LivingWell would be bringing into the classroom, they were derelict in their duties.

It’s also another example of why it is important for stakeholders to keep an eye on school districts and other entities that impact our lives, particularly at a time when newspapers have lost the ability to cover these organizations on an ongoing basis.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at boredgeorgeman@gmail.com.


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