MANASQUAN, N.J. — Claire Moore is fed up. They’re “shoving lies down our throats,” the junior at Manasquan High School in New Jersey said, “and I’m sick and tired of it.”
Hers is no ordinary teen-age rebellion. Moore has staged a months-long battle with her school board, demanding that they either remove Planned Parenthood — which is permitted to give a two-day presentation on contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion to the school’s health classes — or establish an abstinence-based program to show the other side of the sexuality debate.
Her persistence paid off. Manasquan school officials recently announced that faculty members are now required to give equal time to curriculum and guest speakers who promote abstinence.
Many people assumed there was an abstinence education program at school, said Moore, 16. “Many parents just had no idea what was really going on in the schools.”
Moore is not alone. Nationwide, young people and parents are standing up to Planned Parenthood, which many have come to accept as an unfortunate fixture in schools.
Six months ago, Mike Gamble, a Colorado Springs resident, became fed up with what he had learned about the abortion and contraception purveyor and “their widely accepted sex-education classes that have been taught in the public schools over the past 30 years.”
Using the Freedom of Information Act, Gamble and a small group of Christians found every school in the area where Planned Parenthood was speaking.
He then began a campaign of displaying what he calls “the graphic horrors of abortion” outside of those schools, using brochures and large pictures of aborted babies.
The strategy worked. On Feb. 24, Colorado Springs School District 11 announced that Planned Parenthood would not be invited back. Gamble vowed that wherever Planned Parenthood went, he and his campaign would follow.
Peter Howard, director of communications for the Diocese of Colorado Springs, applauded what Gamble has done.
“The Catholic Church will always support non-violent efforts to expose the horror of abortion,” he said. “People must know the truth about these organizations. Planned Parenthood represents everything the Church condemns when it comes to sexual morality.”
Jim Sedlak, executive director of STOPP International, a group committed to closing the doors of Planned Parenthood, said that in recent years, parents and students have had great success in ousting the organization from their schools. But the fight is far from over, he said.
He noted that Planned Parenthood specifically targets high school students and college students as their largest customer base. “Seventy percent of Planned Parenthood’s customers are under 25, and 30% are under 20,” he said.
Planned Parenthood could not be reached for comment. But a local representative of the organization in Lubbock, Texas, said at a public gathering in March that Planned Parenthood “provides lots of good services.”
“We provide information and knowledge so that people may have children one day when they want to,” said Tony Thornton, CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Lubbock. “We give them all the options so that they may make the right choice for themselves.”
But Sedlak called Planned Parenthood’s programs “indoctrination” into the acceptance of pre-marital sex and cited a former Planned Parenthood president who once described her ideal situation: “Once a young person starts thinking about sex, they will choose contraception as naturally as breathing.”
Obliged to Teach
While many Christians agree on the need to remove such groups from schools, there’s a debate over what to put in their place.
Jeff Youngstrom is a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher at a public charter school near Denver. Noting that a girl in his class recently had an abortion, he said that many parents are dropping the ball when it comes to educating their children about sexuality.
When he was in high school near Akron, Ohio, Youngstrom traveled to nearby schools with other teens to teach about abstinence.
What he saw then isn’t too different from what he sees now. “A lot of kids out there just don’t realize how many kids aren’t having sex,” Youngstrom said, “but they hear other kids exaggerating about what they have done and assume that everyone is doing it.”
But Youngstrom noted that the parent-run board that makes decisions at his school has opted not to have any sex-ed programs. While adamant that the school should not support groups like Planned Parenthood, he disagreed with the board and said the school has a responsibility to teach kids the truth about sexuality.
Parents are “afraid that if they do have a program, it’ll end up being taught by someone who will just give their kids a condom … but at the same time, we run into seventh-graders who are having abortions,” he said.
“You have to face the fact that kids are going to do stupid things,” Youngstrom said. “But you shouldn’t have to deal with the fact that they’re doing stupid things because of their ignorance; because they’re picking it up from TV and don’t know the consequences. We have a responsibility to provide real, truthful information about the proper place for sex. We have an obligation to teach kids the truth.”
George Ketchel has been working with high school and middle school youths for almost a decade. A father of two adopted boys, with another on the way, Ketchel and his wife help youths at Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Boulder, Colo. They’re acutely aware of the culture war taking place in America’s schools.
“If kids were really convinced about chastity,” Ketchel said, “they wouldn’t be going to the movies and watching the TV shows they’re watching. What we’re really dealing with here is a culture of disempowered parents.”
He noted that Planned Parenthood and groups like it “have moved in and become ‘experts’ in a field dominated by abortion and contraception.” But with an abundance of so-called “expert” opinions on both sides of the debate, Ketchel echoed Youngstrom in contending that many parents have become too intimidated to teach their kids about true sexuality. Many end up saying nothing.
“A lot of kids we work with are being abstinent; they’re not having sex, but they really don’t know what chastity is,” he said.
Scott Powell writes from
Colorado Springs, Colorado.
- April 24-30, 2005