An anti-sex education sentiment similar to the one that rocked Helena's public school system this summer has taken root locally. The Frenchtown School District Board of Trustees voted last week to block presentations on birth control by a Missoula health center after intense testimony from a group of outraged parents.
For the past eight years, Planned Parenthood of Montana (PPM) has offered Frenchtown freshmen a 90-minute lesson every semester on how birth control can help prevent teen pregnancy and contraction of sexually transmitted infections. PPM Communications Director Beth Cogswell says she's never heard of complaints about the presentations in the past, and believes those who led the recent campaign spread mistruths that could hinder PPM's ability to aid teens in the area.
Frenchtown School Board President Dianne Burke—one of the two dissenting votes on PPM's removal—says the campaign against the birth control presentations stemmed from a faction of parents and board members opposed to PPM itself. During the meeting, Burke recalls many people accusing PPM of giving out "low-dose birth control and defective condoms" in the hopes that teens would then get pregnant and seek out the clinic for abortion services. Cogswell finds the allegations "ridiculous."
"Spreading misinformation about Planned Parenthood—that we give out defective condoms, that our employees are basically sitting around poking holes in condoms—is completely ludicrous," Cogswell says. "That testimony, I hope that doesn't influence teenagers in Frenchtown from accessing Planned Parenthood services."
The issue goes deeper for Burke. She's confident the school's health teacher can handle birth control education. But Frenchtown has a number of at-risk youth, Burke says, who have low parental involvement and typically benefit from direct interaction with outside resources.
"Our curriculum stresses that abstinence is the only 100 percent way to make sure that you don't get pregnant," Burke says, "but we have kids that are making other choices."
Burke fears Frenchtown will have a difficult time filling the void left behind by PPM. She believes any replacement program would almost certainly have to come from a religious-based organization to gain the favor of local pro-lifers. But at the very least, Burke says, "Kids can get a ride into [Missoula] if they need to."