2016 Katharine V. Byers BSW Award
Contest Winner: Zhenia Peterson
Faculty Advisor: Pam H. Bowers, University of Alaska Anchorage
Project Purpose & Background: Through my volunteer work with Planned Parenthood (PP) Votes Northwest and Hawaii, I advocated against Alaska Senate Bill 89. This bill was presented as a parental rights bill stating that schools would be prohibited from allowing any abortion service providers to offer educational materials or instruction to schools (S. 89, 2015). PP, being the only abortion provider in the State of Alaska, was at the receiving end of blatant attacks due to SB 89, and as such the primary focus of my project was to advocate for the bill’s removal.
Access to evidence-based sex education is both critical for students and vital for the state of Alaska. According to the Centers for Disease Control (2015), Alaska’s are number one in the United States for chlamydia diagnoses and number two for gonorrhea diagnoses. Additionally, Fairbanks, the second largest city in Alaska is the number one city in the United States for sexual assault while Anchorage is considered number two on that list (Casserly, 2012). It is also important to note that Alaska’s public schools already have an opt-out system, where parents may remove their children from certain subjects.
SB 89 would create an opt-in system, where parents would need to write their consent on every test and teaching curricula for subjects like sex education, thus creating a burden for parents and a potentially unfair bias for many students.
Outcomes of My Efforts: I focused on three different components related to advocacy. First, I spent over 25 hours recruiting and training 150 volunteers to participate in phone banking where I was the lead. Second, I recruited volunteers to attend hearings and testify against the bill; and I personally testified at six hearings advocating against this bill. Third and lastly, I utilized social media to connect Alaskans with testimonial opportunities and other materials to disseminate about this harmful legislation. In addition to the aforementioned, my internship placement in Anchorage flew me out to our state capitol in Juneau and while there I spoke with 3 senators and 2 representatives. I asked them to stand by sex education in Alaska and to ensure that our students have medically accurate and age appropriate education. After a long process of the bill moving through the Senate and House, it died in the Health and Social Services committee.
Estimated Number of Persons Affected by My Project: If passed, SB 89 would have adversely affected thousands of Alaskan parents, students, educators, schools, PP and its Teen Council group. There are approximately 205,500 students who would have been banned from receiving sex education, and the majority of schools would be unable to receive any evidence-based training materials. Alternatively, Alaskan schools would have to forego any sexual education or be required to contract with sex education providers (outside the state of Alaska), thus creating a financial burden during our deficit budget. By organizing around this senate bill, my hope is that I had a positive impact on all of the aforementioned Alaskans as well as the volunteers I trained for this project.
What I Have Learned: I have been a PP volunteer since 2013 during which time I have worked on many bills and legislation. However, it wasn’t until this learning opportunity that I really understood the legislative process of a bill. It was an eye opening experience to advocate against this bill because it brought so many people together. I was able to witness high school students testify and hold their legislators accountable. I had many powerful conversations with people on the importance of sex education and PP’s presence in Alaska. Additionally, traveling to our capital in Juenau made the overall policy-making process a clearer reality to me.
- Casserly, M. (2012). The Most Dangerous U.S. Cities for Women. Forbes Women. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/.
- Centers for Disease Control. (2015). Alaska â€“ 2015 State
Health Profile. Retrieved 4/25/16 from http://www.cdc.gov/.
- Schools: Parents Rights; Abortion Providers Limits. S. 89, 29th Leg. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.legis.state.ak.us/.