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California Lawmakers Again Trying to Give Free Condoms to 7th-12th Graders

California Lawmakers Again Trying to Give Free Condoms to 7th-12th Graders

Students walk to their classrooms at a middle school in Los Angeles on Sept.10, 2021. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

5/29/2024

Updated: 6/3/2024

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After a similar bill was vetoed last year by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Senate passed a measure May 22 on a vote of 29–9 that would require public schools to offer free condoms for students in grades 7 to 12.
Senate Bill 954, authored by Sen. Caroline Menjivar, would order schools to make available free internal and external condoms to students as part of sexual education programs by the start of the 2025-26 school year. The bill would also prohibit retailers from limiting access to contraceptives based on age.
The author said the bill will ultimately save the state money by reducing disease and pregnancies.
“SB 954 aims to safeguard the health and futures of high school students statewide by increasing equitable access to condoms while also increasing fiscal responsibility,” Ms. Menjivar said in legislative analyses. “Investing in prevention is a fraction of the cost compared to the millions California spends on the treatment of [sexually transmitted infections] every year.”
She acknowledged her attempt last year with Senate Bill 523 and its ultimate failure to become law, with the governor supporting the idea but ultimately rejecting the bill because of the state’s budget deficit, according to his veto letter.
“I am still attempting to address the sexually transmitted infection epidemic among California youth and improve equitable public health outcomes statewide by expanding teen access to condoms in school and communities,” Ms. Menjivar said during the Senate’s Education Committee’s hearing in March.
Citing a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control that shows an increase in sexually transmitted infections for youth between the ages of 15 and their early 20s—with the age group representing nearly 50 percent of all such infections in California—she said the bill will help mitigate disease.
“The reason that they’ve increased is because we don’t have equitable access to these kinds of programs across California,” Ms. Menjivar said.
She pointed to some communities in the state that already offer free condoms, including the Bay Area, Long Beach, and others, while noting the lack of access in some rural areas and the Central Valley.
One supporter of the bill said access to free contraceptives would help reduce the number of infections in youth and urged lawmakers to make the program a statewide standard.
“That’s why it’s critical to ensure that free condoms are available at all public high schools in California,” Amy Moy co-CEO of Essential Access Health—a nonprofit based in Berkeley that advocates for sexual and reproductive health policies—said during the March hearing. “This bill seeks to level the playing field and make access more equitable across the state.”
A survey conducted by the nonprofit found that nearly 70 percent of teens reported not having access to condoms in school, while almost 92 percent of respondents said they would like them to be available.
Another supporter said the measure would benefit teens, particularly those from disadvantaged communities.
“When we educate youth on building healthy habits and equip them with the tools and resources to support their own well-being, we create opportunities for meaningful change,” Lonnell Schuler, director of youth programs for the Black Women for Wellness Action Project—a nonprofit headquartered in Los Angeles—said during the hearing. “This bill will connect resources to the populations most vulnerable to the [sexually transmitted infection] epidemic ... [and address the disproportionate impact of sexually transmitted diseases] by removing barriers to access, promoting safer sex behaviors.”
Consultants with the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee estimated the cost of the bill to the state in the “low millions of dollars” annually depending on how many condoms are distributed.
One lawmaker who opposed the bill said the cost to taxpayers is unfair and urged personal responsibility.
“[It] asks the taxpayers to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got you covered, do whatever you want as you please, and we’re going to pay for it,” Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh said during the education committee hearing.
She also noted the state’s current fiscal dilemma and said that lawmakers should prioritize education spending that benefits all students and not use resources for free condom programs.
“As we allocate funds, as we face the budget cuts that we’re facing right now in the State of California,” Ms. Ochoa-Bogh said, “we’re going to have to prioritize where we’re sending and spending our money as far as our schools go.”
Another critic doubted whether the bill would effectively address sexually transmitted diseases affecting the state and said the measure could send the wrong message to teenagers that promiscuity is safe and acceptable behavior.
“Ultimately, you will have to convince youth to stop having sex with multiple partners if you want to stop the spread,” Greg Burt, vice president of the California Family Council—a Christian nonprofit focused on family values—said during the hearing. “Handing out free condoms does not send that message. Instead, it gives kids a sense of security and tells youth self-control isn’t required when it comes to sex.”
Having cleared the Senate, the bill was read for the first of three times on the Assembly floor May 23 and was held at the desk for further consideration by the house in the coming weeks.
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Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

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Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.

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