Michigan GOP governor candidate claims sex education in schools leads to more abortions

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Tudor Dixon, who is running to unseat Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, falsely claimed Planned Parenthood supports sex education in schools as a 'business model' to drive up demand for abortion.

Late last year, Tudor Dixon, a Republican candidate for Michigan governor, argued there was a cynical and exploitive motive behind Planned Parenthood's sex education program. On November 11, 2021, she told conservative talk radio host Deneen Borelli that the reproductive health care organization introduced sex education in elementary and middle school as part of a ploy to increase the number of abortions teenagers would later have in high school.

"We don't want Planned Parenthood in our schools creating the sex education for our students. Because what’s happening is that this is a business model for Planned Parenthood. Introduce sex when they're seventh graders and you have plenty of abortions in high school," Dixon, a former conservative pundit herself, told Borelli.

"We don't want to give Planned Parenthood a business, a business plan in our schools," she added.

As a nonprofit rather than a private business, Planned Parenthood does not make money from its services. And, even if such a scheme existed, it would have been a remarkable failure. The nationwide abortion rate is at a near-record low in states that have restricted abortion and in states that have protected the right, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think tank.

The comments are a window into what Dixon, one of the leading contenders for the Michigan GOP's gubernatorial nomination, says she believes about abortion, reproductive health care, and the groups that provide them. Dixon has repeatedly rejected any kind of exemption for people seeking abortions — including in the case of rape, incest, or the health of the mother.

When reached for comment, Planned Parenthood of Michigan did not directly address Dixon’s comments or her campaign but rejected the idea that they were pushing sex education in schools. "Planned Parenthood of Michigan has no power to 'institute' statewide sex education programs," Cherie Seitz, Vice President of Education & Outreach at PPMI, told the American Independent Foundation.

Michigan state law requires that every school district create a sex education advisory board that includes clergy, parents, students, health professionals, and educators, Sietz noted, some of which have approved PPMI presenters to provide sex education. But, she added, "None of the programs Planned Parenthood of Michigan provides at public schools include information about abortion. That is prohibited by state law."

Rather than driving up demand for abortion, Sietz said, PPMI's sex education does the opposite: "Our education programs are designed to teach young people about their reproductive health and help them to make healthy, informed decisions. Studies have shown that comprehensive sex education programs like ours reduce rates of sexual activity, sexual risk behaviors, sexually transmitted infections, and teen pregnancy — not increase them."

On Monday night, Politico published a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would strike down Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling which enshrined abortion as a constitutional right. While the draft ruling is not legally binding and abortion remains legal in the United States, the nation's high court may act within the next two months.

Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion groups across the country celebrated the prospective decision — including Dixon, who praised it in a press release — while thousands have taken to the streets in the days since in protest.

An official ruling is expected in late June or early July. If the court chooses to officially overturn Roe, abortion will instantly become illegal in Michigan under a 1931 law making the procedure a felony except to save the life of the mother.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has said she will not enforce the ban or defend it against legal challenges. Planned Parenthood of Michigan filed a suit in April challenging the 1931 law in the state Supreme Court, which currently has a majority of Democratic-nominated justices.

In the wake of Monday's news, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer promised to "fight like hell" to protect abortion access in the state. Last month, Whitmer filed a separate lawsuit challenging the state's 1931 abortion ban, and acknowledged that a post-Roe America "is no longer theoretical: it is reality."

Both Nessel and Whitmer are up for reelection this year and face tough Republican challenges.

Abortion rights remain popular in Michigan; 56% of voters consider themselves "pro-choice," while 34% identify as "pro-life," according to polling from January.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.