A House committee late yesterday defeated SB 304 to permit school districts to offer comprehensive health courses including suicide prevention, substance abuse, tobacco and, the sticking point, pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease prevention.

In its original form the course would have been mandated. The conservative religious group Family Council fought the bill from the start, focusing on sex education. It produced a red herring — that the bill would be used to allow Planned Parenthood to provide sex education in the schools. Rep. LeAnne Burch, the House sponsor, said she didn’t even know of a Planned Parenthood sex education course and her request that one be produced went begging. The group provides comprehensive health services, but also provides abortion and that has made it Public Enemy No. One to many Arkansas legislators and it is invoked whenever possible to achieve other agendas.

Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle) attempted to amend the bill to say that it prohibited anyone from Planned Parenthood from participating. The amendment mentioned abortion four times. The amendment was defeated in advance of Burch amending the bill to make it permissive rather than mandatory. Why even bother, she was asked? To state legislative intent, she said. Burch objected to singling someone out for no good reason.

I’d be a more fearful of sex education as taught by the Family Council. It would begin and end with “no sex” and perhaps include some photos of diseased sex organs.

Opponents of the bill included a speaker from an organization that promotes abstinence who objected to comprehensive sex education courses because one approved by trhe Health Department inca luded demonstration of how to use a condom — “normalizing sexual activity,” as she put it.

The bill got eight votes in a roll call, needing 11, for a “do pass.”

Jerry Cox of the Family Council cheered afterward:

This bill would make it possible for Planned Parenthood to worm its way into junior high and high schools across Arkansas under the auspices of teaching teen pregnancy prevention and sex-education.

The problem wasn’t Planned Parenthood. The problem was comprehensive sex education, same as ever. Just as the Family Council’s arguments against contraception bills this session aren’t about contraception but about people having sex. Cox provided the roll call:

FOR
Rep. Jon Eubanks (R – Paris)
Rep. John Walker (D – Little Rock)
Rep. Jim Dotson (R – Bentonville)
Rep. Jana Della Rosa (R – Rogers)
Rep. DeAnn Vaught (R – Horatio)
Rep. LeAnne Burch (D – Monticello)
Rep. Frances Cavenaugh (R – Walnut Ridge)
Rep. Denise Garner (D – Fayetteville)

AGAINST
Rep. Stephen Meeks (R – Greenbrier)
Rep. Mark Lowery (R – Maumelle)
Rep. Dan Sullivan (R – Jonesboro)
Rep. Nelda Speaks (R – Mountain Home)
Rep. Mickey Gates (R – Hot Springs)
Rep. Brian Evans (R – Cabot)

NOT VOTING
Rep. Gary Deffenbaugh (R – Van Buren)
Rep. Grant Hodges (R – Rogers)
Rep. Fred Allen (D – Little Rock)
Rep. Reginald Murdock (D – Marianna)
Rep. Bruce Cozart (R – Hot Springs)