The recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs V. Jackson Women’s Health Organization – the decision that overturned Roe v. Wade – violates our inherent right to bodily autonomy. As a 20-year-old woman, this new reality is downright terrifying.
Despite this tragic shift in federal policy, Connecticut has been on the front lines of this issue, ensuring abortion remains legal and supported in the state. In May, Governor Ned Lamont signed Public Law 22-19 which protects women traveling to Connecticut for abortions, and also protects medical professionals who perform abortions.
The state has established itself as a leader in matters of reproductive freedom. Nevertheless, Connecticut has yet to employ a key strategy: comprehensive sex education.
According to a very respected study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, comprehensive sex education has been shown to reduce rates of teen pregnancy, risky sexual behavior and sexually transmitted infections. However, despite these compelling medical findings, Connecticut does not require comprehensive sex education in public schools.
Instead, local school boards decide what is taught. Evidence shows that local control produces varied results. For example, poorer school districts are at a disadvantage because their budgets may not allow for additional curriculum. Additionally, some school districts may opt to teach abstinence-only sex education, which has not been proven to reduce teen pregnancy.
Due to local control, from 2020, only 54% of Connecticut high schools teach students all critical sexual health topics recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Without a statewide mandate, individual schools can develop specific policies on what is taught. Essentially, schools are not bound by the guidelines set by the CDC, even though these guidelines cover all essential aspects of comprehensive sex education.
As a result, many college students lack the information needed to make smart, healthy decisions about sex, disease prevention, and contraceptives. It is important to note that the skills taught in sex education are lifelong means of protecting women from unwanted pregnancies.
Once people learn information about boundaries, healthy relationships, sexual health, and contraceptives, they can always make informed decisions about their bodies. These skills are not only important for preventing pregnancy, but also for an individual’s sense of empowerment. All students benefit from sex education because the information taught enables them to make informed and confident decisions about their sexual health.
Connecticut has a relatively low rate teenage pregnancy rate of 7.6 births per thousand women aged 15-19. However, this rate is higher than in the neighboring states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Both Rhode Island and New Hampshire require that sex education be taught in schools. This means that all students attending public schools are exposed to and taught the essential skills of sex education.
These data indicate a clear correlation between mandatory sex education and reduced teenage pregnancy rates. Whereas Massachusetts does not require sex education, research shows that 61.6% of high schools teach the CDC’s 20 suggested topics for comprehensive sex education, compared to 54% of Connecticut schools. Even if there is no mandate, the correlation between access and reduced birth rates is clear.
Importantly, compliance with CDC guidelines is even more widespread in Rhode Island and New Hampshire with 68.1% and 64.4% of schools teaching all 20 essential subjects. The data suggests that a state mandate means more schools teaching all the essential components of comprehensive sex education. Increased access to sex education is imperative to reduce teenage pregnancy rates.
Studies confirm that 60% of comprehensive sex education programs have been shown to reduce unprotected sex in adolescents. Education is an essential part of mitigating teenage pregnancies; nevertheless, Connecticut has yet to fully utilize this valuable resource.
Leaving Connecticutment of education has developed guidelines on comprehensive sex education; however, these guidelines are only suggestions and not mandates.
The guidelines include important concepts such as human development, communication, decision-making skills, and detailed information about contraception. Even so, without the requirement for comprehensive sex education, the Department of Education cannot ensure that this essential information is given to every student.
Education about sexual health, consent, and relationships builds an individual’s power over their body by empowering them to make informed decisions. By mandating access to comprehensive sex education, the state can empower all students to make decisions about their bodies.
Now is the time for Connecticut to take proactive and decisive action. With the hearts and minds of the nation focused on reproductive rights and personal autonomy, state politicians have a unique opportunity to establish positive change. By expanding comprehensive sex education to all Connecticut college students, young people will be better equipped to make informed choices about sexual intimacy and reproductive health at a time when the Supreme Court intends to control their bodies. Currently, legal access to abortion is seriously threatened. Leading Republicans have already called for a federal abortion ban. Duke University predicts that a total ban on abortion would increase pregnancy-related deaths by 21%. With the future of reproductive freedom everywhere uncertain, it is critical that Connecticut invests in proactive pregnancy prevention strategies. Without safe and legal abortions, these measures could mean the difference between life and death.
Lillian Ryan is a student at Trinity College.