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California Bill to Require Schools to Provide Free Condoms to Students

A state Senate bill that would require schools to provide free condoms to all California students passed the Senate Education Committee March 29.

State Sen. Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley) introduced Senate Bill 541 last month to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among youth.

If passed, the bill would require all public schools to make “internal and external” condoms available to students in grades 7–12 free and ensure students are aware of the availability.

The bill would also ban retailers from refusing to sell contraception to people based on age—and prevent them from requiring identification for proof of age.

During a March 29 hearing in the Senate Education Committee, committee members voted 5–2 to pass the bill, and referred it to the Senate Health Committee for a vote in the coming weeks.

During the hearing, Menjivar cited 2018 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that indicated over half of all sexually transmitted infections nationwide were experienced among youth between 15 to 24 years old.

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A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., on Sept. 30, 2014. (Tami Chappell/File Photo/Reuters)

Additionally, 2019 data from the CDC showed that an average of 38 percent of high school students nationwide were sexually active, and only 54 percent used condoms during intercourse.

The bill, Menjivar said, aims to instill “safe” sexual habits.

“While abstinence is, as we know, the only 100 percent effective way to prevent a [sexually transmitted infection], we know some teens are still engaging in sexual activity,” she said during the committee hearing. “We want to make sure when that teenager makes that personal decision, they have the resources to stay safe.”

Menjivar said teens often face barriers to accessing condoms—such as cost, accessibility, identification requirement—or “shame when they’re looking to purchase.”

“Youth are often denied and turned away [when purchasing condoms], and it’s not deterring them from engaging in sexual behavior, it’s just promoting unsafe sexual behavior,” she said. “Providing condoms in school ensures we are meeting youth where they are at.”

Several representatives from health and youth advocacy organizations spoke at the hearing in support of the bill—including members of the AIDs Healthcare Foundation, the California Coalition for Youth, the California Federation of Teachers, and the California Teachers’ Association.

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An elementary school classroom in Orange, Calif., on March 11, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Others, however, spoke at the hearing to oppose the bill.

Greg Burt, with the California Family Council, a public policy advocacy group, said during the hearing that he thought the state’s sexual health policies in recent years have inadvertently caused a rise in sexually transmitted infections.

“For the last decade or more this legislative body has been pushing condoms as the solution to sexually transmitted infections spreading among our youth,” he said. “And each time the infection rate rose, [legislators] insisted kids just need easier access to condoms and information about safe sex at younger and younger ages.”

Burt urged the committee to rethink the issue, advocating instead for the state to uphold the ideal of abstinence until marriage.

“… It is time to tell young people the truth, that those with the most fulfilling and healthy sex lives are those who treat sex as a special and intimate act to be shared in a monogamous, committed marriage,” he said. “I’m not encouraging you to shame people. But hold up abstinence until marriage as a noble ideal. [Sexually transmitted infections] can’t thrive in a culture that idealizes marriage.”

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