HELENA — The Montana Senate voted Monday to advance a bill that would allow parents of public school students to opt out of sex education and would ban abortion providers from offering information in schools.
Under the bill, schools would be required to inform parents or guardians what will be taught in sex education classes.
Supporters of the bill have expressed concern over a so-called "progressive" agenda being taught in sex education curricula.
"A lot of times those teachings conflict with what we try to teach our children at home and in our churches," said bill sponsor Republican Sen. Cary Smith.
Under the bill, groups that provide abortion services, such as Planned Parenthood, would be barred from providing course materials or instruction relating to sex education in public schools. Opponents of the bill said such a measure could disadvantage certain young people, leading to more teen pregnancies.
"There are many children out there who do not have parents that are active in their lives and these are the ones that have questions that aren't getting the right answers," said Democratic Sen. Edie McClafferty. "Just saying 'No, don't go out and have sex,' isn't going to do it. Teaching them and giving them knowledge gives them the strength to make the correct decisions."
The measure was originally designed by Smith to require parents to provide written consent for their children to participate in sex education, but the bill was amended last week from an opt-in to an opt-out policy, after many education groups opposed the opt-in measure, including the Montana School Board Association.
The measure passed in the Republican-controlled Senate, with all 31 Republicans in favor and all 19 Democrats opposed. The Senate will vote on the bill for a third and final time this week. If passed, it will head to the House for consideration.
If signed into law, Montana would join several other states that allow parents to opt out of sex education classes in public schools. According to a tally by the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for abortion access, 36 other states already allow parents to opt out.
Numerous states restrict the discussion of abortion during sex education in schools, including Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina and Virginia. The Tennessee Senate is considering this year a bill that would prohibit encouraging or advocating for abortion on school property.
Smith advanced a similar bill in 2013, which was vetoed by then-Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat. Bullock said at the time that the bill would have intruded on the Board of Public Education and local school boards' constitutional authority over schools.
The bill is one of several making a comeback this year, as the Republican-dominated Legislature seeks to capitalize on the election of Gov. Greg Gianforte, the state's first Republican governor in 16 years.
The proposed sex education bill comes as Montana lawmakers are seeking to pass restrictions on abortion access in the state. The Republican-dominated Legislature is advancing bills that would ban abortion in most cases after 20 weeks of gestation; require health care providers to give pregnant women the opportunity to view an ultrasound before performing an abortion; require that abortion pills be administered in-person rather than through telehealth; require health care providers to care for fetuses born alive during abortion procedures; and ban the coverage of abortion procedures by health insurance plans offered through the state exchange.
Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.