North Carolina's debate over abstinence-based sex education in public schools smolders on like an underground fire -- ready to flame when events bring it to the surface.
The most recent spark came with news that Sen. John McCain's vice presidential choice, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, has a pregnant 17-year-old daughter. Palin has spoken out for the abstinence-based approach, which is backed by President Bush and taught in most North Carolina counties, including Wake, as the only sex education allowed.
Prompted by the Palin case, conversations about sex education this week have highlighted the issue's polarizing effect. Christian activists continue to support the abstinence method, saying that high-profile cases such as the Palins' don't mean the approach should be changed.
"You don't make things better by lowering the standard," said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. He said sex outside marriage should be discouraged, just like any other risky behavior, including drug use, drunken driving, smoking and fighting.
Others, including a state public-health task force, have pushed to add more detailed information about contraceptives to the abstinence-based course. Earlier this year, a bill in the state legislature would have allowed local school boards to add topics, including the use of contraceptives, without the public hearings that have stalled comprehensive sex education in several counties. The bill made headway and will likely re-emerge when legislators return in January.
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