On Tuesday in Texas, the state House of Representatives voted to take $3 million earmarked for prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and spend it instead on abstinence-only sex education. It was a fascinating moment - particularly when the sponsor of the motion, a Republican named Stuart Spitzer, told the House that he had been a virgin until he got married at age 29.
“What’s good for me is good for a lot of people,” he said.
This had historic reverberations. Several years ago, then-Gov. Rick Perry conducted a fabled interview with The Texas Tribune in which Perry defended the state’s stress on abstinence-only sex education while his interviewer pointed out that Texas had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.
“I’m just going to tell you from my own personal life. Abstinence works,” Perry retorted.
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Does Texas traditionally decide state policy based on politicians’ sexual history? If so, that’s terrifying.
The debate in Austin degenerated when a Democrat demanded to know whether Rep. Spitzer - who, I have to point out, is a doctor - had ever tried to proposition other women before his wife accepted.
That was going overboard. The Democrats should have stuck with their earlier lines of argument, which included pointing out that Texas gets more federal money for abstinence-only sex education than any other state, and that Texas has a teen birthrate that is almost twice as high as California’s, which has completely barred schools from limiting their courses on sex to the advisability of not having any.
All that was news to Spitzer, who did admit that abstinence-only education “may not be working well.” This had no effect whatsoever on his insistence that Texas needed to do more of it. His proposal passed and went to the state Senate.
This business of legislating fiction is rather widespread. The Guttmacher Institute, which keeps track of these things, has counted 12 states where women seeking abortions have to be informed that a 20-week-old fetus can feel pain, research to the contrary notwithstanding. Four states require that women be given inaccurate portrayals of the effects of an abortion on future fertility. In five states, a woman who wants an abortion has to be informed that abortions are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
I’m working up to a point here. The nation is becoming more rational about gay sex and more irrational about heterosexual sex. Who would have thought?
Gay residents of Indiana had a big victory this week when the Legislature there amended a “freedom of religion” law it had just passed, making clear that nothing in it would permit businesses to discriminate against, say, same-sex weddings. Social conservatives are fuming, since discriminating against same-sex weddings was the entire point.
But the business community rose up in support of gay rights, just as it did last year when the same thing happened in Arizona. Politicians retreated in terror. By summer, most observers expect the Supreme Court to declare that gay Americans have a constitutional right to get married. And then the battle will pretty much be won.
But heterosexual women are being pushed further and further back. The good old Guttmacher Institute recently reported that during the first three months of the year, nearly 800 proposals relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights were introduced in state legislatures.
Abortion is no longer the dark secret it used to be, but women who’ve had an abortion generally don’t think of it as part of their identity, any more than they identify themselves as consumers of birth-control pills or wearers of IUDs. That kind of stuff is private.
Which is the exact reason politicians need to keep their hands off.
If male legislators could get pregnant, we’d have a different story. Except, of course, for the ones in Texas who are saving themselves for marriage.
Collins is a New York Times columnist.