Oklahoma Can’t Fund Its Anti-Abortion Bill

The state passed a bill that would teach life from conception and ban science-based sex ed. Too bad it doesn’t have the cash to implement it.

03.23.16 5:00 AM ET

Oklahoma can’t afford to pay for its own anti-abortion bill.

This month, the State House of Representatives passed a bill that would require public high schools to teach that life begins at conception. But now that HB 2797 is on its way to the Senate, it finally has a price tag: $4.78 million in additional spending for a state that is already running a billion-dollar deficit. That amounts to $10,000 per high school for a state whose public education system ranks 46th in the nation.

The cost of the anti-abortion bill makes more sense when its requirements are itemized. HB 2797 (PDF), sponsored by Republican Rep. Ann Coody, would order the Oklahoma Department of Education to advertise anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers in high schools and to “clearly and consistently teach that abortion kills a living human being.”

The legislation would also require the department to seek out “entertainment personalities and athletes who are recognizable role models for many young people” in order to teach students about “the humanity of the unborn child.”

But wait! That’s not all. The bill also requires schools to distribute literature describing “the probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child at two-week gestational intervals” with the ultimate goal of “achieving an abortion-free society.”

Of course, the best way to reduce the number of abortions would be to promote contraception and honestly discuss human sexuality. But HB 2797 stipulates that none of the money allocated for these anti-abortion initiatives can be “used to finance programs or materials on human sexuality.”

The bill would, however, force schools to counsel ninth- through 12th-grade girls about “maternal behavior during pregnancy which is helpful to a human child in utero.”

The money for all of these pamphlets and programs would come from a brand new “Public Education on the Humanity of the Unborn Child Fund.” And it’s on this point that the bill, which passed the House with an enthusiastic 64-12 vote, has started to lose some steam.

As the Associated Press reported this week, Republican Sen. A.J. Griffin, the co-sponsor, indicated that HB 2797 would be revised in order to “alleviate any fiscal impacts to our school districts” before it goes up for a vote in the Senate.

Not only would implementing the program cost nearly $5 million, the state Department of Education believes it could cost up to $160,000 to even develop the curriculum.

That’s a tall order for a state that spends relatively little on its pupils in the first place. According to data compiled by Education Week (PDF), Oklahoma spends $8,767 per pupil annually. That figure falls more than $3,000 below the national average, giving the state a ranking of 45th in the nation on that particular metric. Adjusted and weighted to account for district-level spending, that ranking falls all the way down to 48th.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma already has a fairly low abortion rate—6.9 abortions per year for every 1,000 women aged 15 to 44—coupled with remarkably strict anti-abortion legislation. In addition to a 20-week ban and an extreme 72-hour waiting period, Oklahoma also requires minors to have notarized permission from their parents before receiving an abortion.

By contrast, parental permission would not be required for high schoolers to undergo the state’s proposed anti-abortion curriculum in public schools, although parents can opt their children out.

But parents are also free to opt their children out of sex education in Oklahoma. In fact, Oklahoma does not even require public schools to have sex education programs to begin with. If schools elect to provide them anyway, the information in their curriculum does not have to be medically accurate but abstinence must be stressed. That may help explain why Oklahoma has the second-highest teen birth rate in the country.

If the Sooner State can find $5 million to spare for a new school curriculum, perhaps it could start with sex education.