Why there are antiabortion stickers on science books in Arizona

Parents of Gilbert Public Schools in Arizona have had mixed reactions to the stickers, which the district says are designed to bring a biology textbook into compliance with state law.

When Suzanne Young’s son climbed into her car earlier this week, he handed her his biology textbook. “You’re going to want to read this,” he said, according to Ms. Young.

He wasn’t talking about the book itself, but about a 65-word sticker for the back cover – a novel way for the school district outside Phoenix to comply with an Arizona law regulating how abortion is to be presented to public-school students.

The sticker, which Gilbert Public Schools are requiring for a high school biology textbook, states that the school district supports the state’s “strong interest in promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion.”

The move has elicited both praise and criticism from local parents, and has added fuel to the ongoing national debate over abortion and how reproductive health should be taught to children.

The subject has been deliberated in Gilbert for months, but the news about the sticker broke when Young – a bestselling author – tweeted an image of it on Wednesday afternoon. It has since been retweeted almost 1,500 times.

Young later tweeted that, according to her son, if a student does not have the sticker affixed to his or her biology textbook, the student will have to meet with his or her grade-level administrator.

The message on the sticker, which includes the relevant sections of state law, is 65 words long:

The Gilbert Public School District supports the state of Arizona's strong interest in promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion. The District is also in support of promoting abstinence as the most effective way to eliminate the potential for unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. If you have questions concerning sexual intercourse, contraceptives, pregnancy, adoption, or abortion, we encourage you to speak with your parents."

The state law, passed in 2012, requires public schools and charter schools to “present childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.”

Sex education is not mandatory in Arizona schools, but if it is taught, schools are required to stress abstinence over contraceptive methods.

Arizona ranks second in the nation in regard to teen pregnancy, according to NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona.

Local parents offered contrasting views about Gilbert's move to ABC15 news.

“I’m not for abortion, I’m not against abortion, but I do feel the entire picture ought to be told,” one mother, Kathy Weber, told the station.

Another Gilbert mother, Paula Anderson, said that the subject “should be covered at home and maybe not the textbook.”

The sticker is actually a compromise in a long-running debate in the school district over a handful of sentences in the textbook “Campbell Biology: Concepts & Connections (7th Edition).” 

A chapter in the book discusses abstinence, birth-control methods, vasectomies, and drugs that can induce abortion.

Last October, the school district’s conservative board voted 3 to 2 to order staff to “edit” the relevant passages in the textbook. The passages had been brought to the board's attention by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative advocacy group based in the state. 

Natalie Decker, an attorney for the group, made a presentation to the board before the vote, The Arizona Republic reported at the time.

“The [textbook] law is not limited to books in sex-education classes,” she said, according to the newspaper. “It applies any time a mention of abortion is included in instruction. This is not an ambiguous law.”

Ms. Decker did not recommend a way to change the book during her presentation. Early suggestions had included redacting the passages with a marker or ripping the pages out. Daryl Colvin, a board member who voted for the change, said at the time that “the cheapest, least disruptive way to solve the problem is to remove the page.” 

“The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC responded to the debate in Gilbert by posting images of the relevant textbook pages on a website the show set up: ArizonaHonorsBiology.com.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has argued that removing the information from the books would only send kids to the Internet to find out what was missing.

Regarding the stickers, she released this statement this week: “I worked closely with the Governing Board to provide a solution to last year's matter regarding the District's biology books. The board and I have full confidence in our teachers and because we trust the way our teachers instruct, we agreed that the stickers on the back cover are the best course of action. We are pleased with the collaboration and completion of this matter.”

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