GOP Aims To Stop Iowa Schools From Teaching About AIDS, HPV

Screenshot/Iowa House stream

By Ty Rushing

February 13, 2023

Some Iowa Republicans—including Gov. Kim Reynolds—have proposed changes to the state’s sexual education curriculum that could remove instruction about AIDS and/or the human papillomavirus (HPV) and the associated vaccine. 

Reynolds’ office has proposed three types of such legislation and Rep. Jeff Shipley (R-Fairfield) introduced a separate bill that only targets the HPV vaccine.

In SSB 1145,  and HSB 119/SSB 1076, which are the Iowa House and Iowa Senate versions of the same bill, Reynolds’ office proposes removing all instruction related to AIDS, but the governor’s proposals on HPV and the HPV vaccine are inconsistent. 

SSB 1145 would remove all instruction on HPV, the HPV vaccine, and AIDS, while Reynolds’ other bill would allow instruction about HPV and the HPV vaccine but removes AIDS from the curriculum. 

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Rep. Jeff Shipley (R-Fairfield), one of Iowa’s most vocal anti-vaccine legislators who once said he wanted to suck the toes of women who resisted the COVID-19 vaccine, introduced HF 187, which would prevent schools from mentioning the HPV vaccine.

The Centers for Disease and Control recommends the HPV vaccine for everyone through age 26, but people under age 15 can take it in two doses whereas those who take it past age 15 need three doses.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the HPV vaccine “can prevent most cases of cervical cancer if the vaccine is given before girls or women are exposed to the virus. This vaccine can also prevent vaginal and vulvar cancer. In addition, the vaccine can prevent genital warts, anal cancers, and mouth, throat, head and neck cancers in women and men.”

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An Iowa House subcommittee hearing was held Monday on Shipley’s bill. During the hearing, a range of people and organizations spoke out against the bill including representatives from the American Cancer Society, Blank Children’s Hospital, and more.

Dr. Melanie Wellington, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the University of Iowa, said her job is to take care of children who contract life-threatening diseases that could have been prevented and she considers the HPV vaccine to be one of those preventative measures.

“There are many completely innocent ways that somebody can get HPV,” Wellington said. “HPV vaccine isn’t about sex or sexually transmitted diseases; it’s about cancer and it saves lives and we need to make sure that kids know about it.”

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Lindsay Maher of Informed Choice Iowa, a nonprofit that opposes vaccine mandates and advocates for vaccine safety, said her organization supports Shipley’s bill. It also recommends that the bill be amended to cut the direct mention of HPV because it would be redundant since the bill includes education about STDs.

Maher also argued that mentioning the HPV vaccine only benefits the pharmaceutical company, Merck. This stance has been shared in other legislative hearings this session.

“We don’t want to advertise for Merck because Merck is the only provider of the HPV vaccine in the United States of America, which I don’t know what we do with all the other products in our state but do we force [students] to learn about one single product,” Maher said.

Maher suggested if schools were going to discuss the HPV vaccine in curriculum, it should address “both sides” of the debate about the pharmaceutical drug that can prevent certain cancers.

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Rep. Brooke Boden (R-Indianola) chaired the subcommittee hearing. Although the hearing was specifically about a bill to stop instruction on the HPV vaccine in schools, Boden said this reflects a bigger conversation that she felt needs to happen surrounding vaccine discourse in schools.

“The conversation here needs to be narrowed down to ‘Are we going to have discussions with children at school about vaccines,” Boden said. “…Where do you draw the line on scope of practice? So, to me, a little bit of that is my doctor’s responsibility to talk about informed consent, what is the positive of this vaccine, what is the negative, I think, in my mind, you know some of these children have no idea what we’re talking about.

“I prefer to think that some parents actually would love to be part of that conversation with their kids—although I know there’s kids that will never have that conversation with their parents, but with their doctor who understands informed consent.”

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Rep. Monica Kurth (D-Davenport) noted schools aren’t telling students they have to take the HPV vaccine, but merely informing them that it is available. Then she had several of the medical professionals in attendance speak up about the minimal risks associated with the HPV vaccine.

Rep. Anne Osmundson (R-Volga) said if people want to argue that talking about the HPV vaccine is merely educating them about it, then the same metric should be applied to all vaccines including the flu shot and COVID vaccine.

“I guess if that is our argument, then we have a lot of education reform to do,” Osmundson said.

Boden and Osmundson recommended the bill for passage.


by Ty Rushing

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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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