Bills would restrict Planned Parenthood in Alaska schools

JUNEAU — Alaska lawmakers are poised to consider legislation that would bar school districts from contracting with abortion services providers or allowing them to offer materials or provide instruction on human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases.

A legislative attorney has raised questions about the constitutionality of the provisions. Erik Houser, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said the organization’s education programs are regularly targeted around the U.S., “but rarely in such a blatant and discriminatory way.”

The language is part of a broader bill from Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Dunleavy that calls for local school boards to adopt policies promoting parental involvement in a district’s education program. Among other things, the policies would have to include procedures allowing for a parent to object to and withdraw a child from a state-required test or from activities or programs due to concerns about content involving sexual matters or privacy.

The bill could be brought up for consideration by the state Senate later this week.

Earlier this week, Dunleavy introduced what he called a companion to that bill that would restrict activities of abortion services providers or representatives of them in public schools and lay out penalties for violations.

For example, a teacher who knowingly violates the restrictions could be fired. A doctor who violates the provisions could face sanctions from the State Medical Board. An abortion services provider or affiliate whose representative violates the restrictions would be liable for a civil penalty or damages, plus costs, to what the bill calls “each aggrieved student.”

“Our schools are evolving into indoctrination centers. They’re evolving more away from the basic intent of education, which is to give kids skills and knowledge,” Dunleavy said. Values-training is the role of parents, he said.

Laura Einstein, chief legal counsel at Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, said in a statement that both bills are unconstitutional attempts to stifle Planned Parenthood’s programs and deprive students of sexual health education.

It’s up to school districts to decide how to approach sex education. They can choose whether to have it or what to teach, state department of education spokesman Eric Fry said. The department doesn’t have any record of the curricula that districts use, he said.

Houser said the organization is the largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education in Alaska, providing direct education to more than 2,000 students each year.

It’s not just about sex, he said, but also teaching about healthy relationships. Planned Parenthood also has a peer-education program called Teen Council in Anchorage and Juneau, he said.

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