By Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Jean D. Breaux

Word count: 443

Courage. It’s an attribute we celebrate as a society. It’s a virtue we encourage our children to embrace. Stand up for what’s right, be strong and take heart, we tell them. Yet leaders at the Indiana Statehouse routinely fail to rise to that standard.

Take a recent bipartisan proposal dealing with our state’s escalating teen pregnancy crisis. The initiative called on the Indiana Departments of Health and Education to study the issues of teen pregnancy and health education and to report findings to the General Assembly. Equipped with that information, lawmakers could next year develop and debate health education curricula for local school officials to adjust and adopt. The bill was one page long and intended to launch a sorely-needed conversation on why abstinence-only sex education isn’t enough and why the status quo is failing our children.

In Indiana, only 40 percent of teen mothers go on to graduate high school and children of teen mothers are more likely to drop out of school and give birth as teens themselves. The expense to taxpayers for prenatal, birth and postnatal care of teen mothers reached nearly $50 million in 2013. These are quantifiable costs. The emotional toll on new mothers, on children and on families extends much higher. This isn’t an urban problem, in fact the opposite is true. The 10 Indiana counties with the highest teen birth rates are all rural save for Vigo County.

Public opinion is squarely in favor of a conversation on this issue. A 2012 survey showed that 93 percent of adults and 87 percent of teens thought it important that young people receive information about both abstinence and contraception. In the absence of age-appropriate sex education, young people are turning to the internet where information is often misrepresented and medically inaccurate.

Failing to provide young people with age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education information is as reckless as sending them back into the game without a helmet. We know proper safety gear reduces injury and protects student athletes. We know comprehensive sex education actually leads to delayed or reduced sexual activity and other positive outcomes.

So why are Republican leaders punting? Why did they defeat a proposal to study an issue the public overwhelmingly supports? Why are legislators voting against studying an issue when counties they represent have nearly the highest teen birth rates?

All good questions. It takes courage to stand up to narrow-minded special interest groups attempting to hijack the legislative process. Our kids deserve it. They deserve lawmakers who can openly debate and ultimately forge a way forward on developing a comprehensive approach to sex education. It’s time for us to be responsible adults and have this conversation.