Mississippi schools will continue to teach an abstinence-based sex-ed curriculum for the next five years.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate passed bill 494, which extends the original sex education bill passed in 2011 for five more years. That bill required each local school district to adopt either an abstinence-only or abstinence-plus education policy.

Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, proposed an amendment that would have kept the bill in play until June 30, giving the Senate time to make changes to the bill and clarify some of the wording.

Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven
Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven Credit: Gil Ford Photography

“This is just to continue the conversation,” Doty said noting that 65 percent of the curricula were incorrectly listed as both abstinence-only and abstinence-plus.

One controversial aspect of the bill is that it did not specify that the sex ed curriculum must be an evidence-based abstinence-plus program. According to the Women’s Foundation, these programs have been statistically proven to reduce the teen birth rate.

“Abstinence-only can involve religious-based curriculum,” said Jamie Bardwell, Deputy Director of the Women’s Foundation. “Abstinence-plus, they don’t emphasize the sex as much. It’s wait until you’re in a committed relationship. The ones that are evidence-based are more respectful of young people, less fear, more about relationship skills.”

When proposing the amendment, Doty noted that Mississippi has one of the highest teen birth rates in the country and that can end up costing the state money. In 2013, 4,417 babies were born to teenage mothers, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.

“About 500 of the babies who were born were low birthweight babies, and this costs $100,000,” Doty said. “That’s $50 million that the state’s spending. So if we could reduce any of those numbers, it would be good for our state.”

“We know it’s good policy to have good sex ed,” Doty said.

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Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.