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Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / Frank Ramseur, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Chattanooga, speaks at the Hamilton County school board meeting on June 17, 2021. Ramseur helped organize efforts against Planned Parenthood, which hired two staff in the city in recent months.

The ongoing fight for and against the arrival of Planned Parenthood in Chattanooga came before the Hamilton County Board of Education on Thursday night as abortion opponents rallied at the monthly meeting in support of the county's abstinence-only sexual education model.

Frank Ramseur, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Chattanooga, told the school board there is broad and increasing local support for the current sex education curriculum, which is superior to anything Planned Parenthood provides.

In May, Calvary Chapel Chattanooga encouraged members to become involved in the fight against Planned Parenthood, including signing a petition for the school board and donating to support an abortion reversal treatment in the city.

"We're here to make no demands," Ramseur told the school board Thursday night. "We're here not to make any threats, push any political agenda. We have come simply to represent and give voice to, I think, a significant and growing number of citizens, largely parents of school-age children, who are aware of Planned Parenthood's sort of reemergence in our city."

As of Thursday, more than 2,500 people signed Calvary Chapel Chattanooga's petition, which raises concerns that Planned Parenthood is trying to implement a new curriculum in the schools. The petition states it will be sent to Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson and the school board to "to stand up for the health of children in this district and protect them from the abortion-minded curriculums that Planned Parenthood brings to cities."

Abortion opponents began organizing after news broke in March that Planned Parenthood was hiring two full-time staff members — a community organizer and a health educator — in Chattanooga. The organization has not had a full-time staff member in the city since 2005, but local supporters say there is growing support in Chattanooga for Planned Parenthood and the services it offers.

The organization's health educator could help bring a peer education program to the area, although officials with Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi have said they are still canvassing to gauge interest. The effort would involve programs for teenagers to become educators among their friends to discuss things such as healthy relationships, body image concerns, sexually transmitted infections and identifying warning signs of suicide.

Elisabeth Bradner, director of education for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, told the Times Free Press last week the current sexual education model in Tennessee is doing a disservice to students.

Anne Roth, who spoke alongside Ramseur and said she is a former Hamilton County Schools teacher, said the declining teen birth rate in the state in the past 30 years is a sign the current sex education model is working.

"We want to maintain our values and continue to put an emphasis on families to educate their children in sexual health and allow parents to make the decisions for when it is time to have the more detailed conversations regarding gender and sexuality at home," Roth said.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the teen birth rate in Tennessee in 2019 is less than half of what it was in 2005. Teen birth rates have fallen nationwide in the past two decades, but Tennessee remains in the top 10 states as of 2019 with 24 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19.

The Rev. Laura Becker, pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church, said in a statement more comprehensive sex education lowers unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

"For decades, ignoring and/or shaming sexuality have not proven to be effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies or abortions," Becker said in the statement. "If this church truly wanted to lower the number of abortions, they wouldn't focus their efforts on preventing developmentally appropriate education on sexuality and reproduction; they would instead make sure all women have access to affordable birth control and health care."

The state determines the health and wellness learning standards for local schools. For example, in sixth grade, students are taught to "identify the difference between abstinence and risk behaviors and why abstinence is the responsible and preferred choice for adolescence," as well as "identify how the media influences risk behavior related to teen pregnancy."

In seventh grade, the goal shifts to "identify the positive benefits of abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage" and in eighth grade the objective is to "describe the social, emotional, and economic impact associated with teen parenting."

Cody Patterson, communications officer for Hamilton County Schools, said last week the school district does not plan to work with Planned Parenthood.

After Ramseur and Roth spoke, the filled meeting room erupted in applause. None of the school board members offered comments in response to the presentation.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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