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Illinois House passes abstinence-based sexual education proposal

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SPRINGFIELD-After extensive debate, Illinois House members Wednesday voted to include abstinence-based sexual education in the state's public schools that teach the subject for grades six through 12.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Camille Lilly (D-Chicago), emphasizes "that abstinence from sexual intercourse is a responsible and positive decision and is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against unwanted teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and [AIDS] when transmitted sexually."

Despite Republican concerns that the measure goes too far in taking local control away from schools and that some children may be too young to be taught sex education, the bill passed by a 66-52 margin and now moves to the Senate.

"Where do we stop with this? Where on earth do we stop with this?" Rep. David Reis (R-Willow Hill) implored.

"This bill goes too far. We're teaching too young of kids too much."

But Lilly said local school districts would determine their own curricula using guidelines set by the Illinois State Board of Education that are "developmentally and age-appropriate, medically accurate and complete." She said sixth graders, for instance, could learn to identify reproductive parts, while students couldn't learn about contraceptives until high school.

"We do not want sex education to be taught to children at an inappropriate age," Lilly said. "This legislation brings standards to what is going to be taught and approved by each of the individual educational boards."

Lilly's bill would also allow parents to remove their children from the class for any reason with a written objection.

"The school and the school officials approve every curriculum here in their particular school system," Lilly said. "And also the parents have the ability to opt out of whatever was approved by the school officials."

But at least one House member thought the bill lacked any real teeth because of the opt-out provision.

"What this seeks to do is always provide more, always expand everything," Rep Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) said. "I'm not exactly sure what problems this will solve if people can opt out."

Meanwhile, the legislation received high praise from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Planned Parenthood of Illinois and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

"This is a good day for young people in the state," said Khadine Bennett, legislative counsel for ACLU-IL, in a prepared statement. "Thanks to Rep. Lilly's leadership, public school students in grades six to 12 are one step closer to receiving age-appropriate sexual health education."

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