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Free condoms would be at every public California high school under new bill

By Orko Manna

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    SACRAMENTO, California (KCRA) — A new bill would require every public high school in California to provide free condoms to students.

Senate Bill 541, introduced by State Sen. Caroline Menjivar, D-Burbank, would go into effect on or before the start of the 2024-2025 school year. Menjivar said the goal of the bill is to increase access to condoms for sexually active teens so that unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be prevented.

“What we’re asking the schools to do is to provide condoms in two different locations throughout their campus, and not where a student will have to go to a teacher, an administrator to ask for them,” Menjivar said. “We’re trying to remove the shame behind sometimes these youth asking for something, and then they practice unsafe sex.”

SB 541 would also require schools to post prominent signage telling students where they can get condoms on campus and how to use them.

“We want to make sure they have all the facts and all the resources available at their fingertips to make a safe decision,” Menjivar said.

The student activist coalition, GENup, supports the bill. Ria Babaria and Fiona Lu, both current high school seniors in California, serve as policy and legislative co-directors for GENup. Babaria explained that factors like age and race have impacted the ability to get condoms.

“I’ve actually had a few friends, like peers of mine, that went to go purchase condoms at their local pharmacy but left without contraceptives in their hands, because they were shamed and harassed from purchasing these condoms, “Babaria said.

Lu added, “I think having them at schools would make it a lot more accessible for students, especially because that’s where we are most of our time as full-time students.”

However, not everyone agrees. The California Family Council, a conservative advocacy group, opposes the bill. Greg Burt, the California Family Council Director of Capitol Engagement, sent KCRA 3 the following statement:

“California public schools have been pushing condoms as part of ‘comprehensive sex education’ for more than a decade in the name of improving student health. But it’s been a complete failure if you look at the rates of sexually transmitted infections.” “According to the California Department of Public Health, STIs have reached ‘epidemic levels.’ It should be obvious that more condoms are not the solution. We have to stop assuming hormonal teens can’t control themselves. The only sure way to reduce STI rates is to tell young people the truth, that those with the most fulfilling and healthy sex lives are those who treat sex as a special and intimate act to be shared in a monogamous committed relationship with someone of the opposite sex.” But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have shown that more condom availability does not lead to more sex. Planned Parenthood Mar Monte said the data they have seen reaches the same conclusion.

“The research shows that providing health care access like condoms and education, making sure they know how to properly use them, that that significantly decreases sexually transmitted infections, but we should also say that it doesn’t increase sexual activity. It just increases folks’ ability to have safer sex and make sure that they’re staying healthy,” Planned Parenthood Mar Monte Director of Public Affairs Candelaria Vargas said.

Menjivar said SB 541 would also allow Californians ages 12 to 18 to access the HPV vaccine at Family PACT centers, which are state-funded community health clinics.

The bill is scheduled to be presented to the Senate Education Committee next week.

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