Young people need and deserve comprehensive sex education based on science and public health, not religious views or ideology,” said National Council of Jewish Women President Nancy Ratzan in a recent statement. A local NCJW section will travel to Trenton on April 23 in support of that view and to learn more about this and other issues.
The day-long program is being sponsored by NCJW, Choice N.J., and the N.J. Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights.
|State Sen. Loretta Weinberg will receive an award at the April 23 event.|
Joan Snider of Teaneck, a longtime member of NCJW’s Bergen County section and co-chair of the group’s N.J. State Public Affairs Committee, pointed out that while the group advocates on behalf of Jewish issues and actively supports the state of Israel, it is also deeply involved in issues of social justice, particularly those relating to women, children, and families. Statewide, NCJW has about 7,000 members, she said, and the Bergen County section, which has been in existence for some 85 years, has 1,100 members.
In 2006, New Jersey became the fourth state to reject federal funds to help implement abstinence-only sexual education programs in the public schools. Contending that strict adherence to all the elements of the abstinence education program contradicted the state’s core curriculum content standards, the state chose instead to implement a program of comprehensive sex education.
While today nearly half the states have rejected funding for the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs – funding that has amounted to more than $1 billion – no monies have been made available for comprehensive sexuality education, which includes abstinence as one, but not the only, option to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. And this is despite the findings of a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2007 that abstinence-only education did not reduce teenage sexual activity.
Not only have financial resources been lacking, but, said Snider, since there is no uniform curriculum or model for these types of comprehensive programs, their effectiveness varies from place to place.
Between 20 and 30 members of the local section are expected to attend the “Day in Trenton,” an event held every two or three years, said Snider. While the section draws women from all over Bergen County, most members live in Teaneck, Fort Lee, and Hackensack.
The Trenton event will include the presentation of Pro-Choice Awards to New Jersey legislators. Among those honored will be state Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, both Democrats from District 37, and state Sen. Robert Gordon (D-38). Snider pointed out that while other local legislators may, in fact, be pro-choice, the awards are based on voting records, and newer lawmakers may not yet have had a chance to vote on such issues.
Among the presenters for the morning session – titled “What are our children learning? Is sex education really comprehensive?” – will be Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15), author of bill A794, requiring comprehensive sex education and repeal of the abstinence-only statute. Snider noted that NCJW supports this legislation as well as the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), which would create the first dedicated federal funding stream for comprehensive sex education and set up a system to evaluate the effectiveness of such programs.
Also participating in the discussion will be Nora Gelperin, director of training and education for N.J. Answer, a national organization dedicated to providing and promoting comprehensive adolescent sexuality education; Bill Taverner, director of The Center for Family Life Education at Planned Parenthood of Greater Northern New Jersey; and Elizabeth Gyori, a teen contributor to “Sex, Etc.,” a newsletter published by N.J. Answer.
A second panel discussion will focus on custody and visitation issues, exploring whether children are at risk when parents hurl accusations of child abuse, true or not, at their estranged spouses.
“It’s a difficult issue, hard for judges and attorneys to sort out,” said Snider, explaining that parents may use such accusations as weapons against one another. “This session should open eyes. Each of the panelists will have a different take” on the subject.
Among the speakers, she said, is psychologist Amy Hoch of the CARES Institute, who will “evaluate children’s needs when domestic violence or sexual abuse is alleged,” as well as Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Robert Figarotta and Susie Groisser, an attorney for the Rachel Coalition, which deals with issues of domestic violence.
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