Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers suggested on Saturday that Planned Parenthood supports comprehensive sex education because, he claims, it leads to more abortions and sexually transmitted diseases that help the group's bottom line.
He described his unfounded conspiracy theory as "the business plan of hell."
Bowers, a Republican, also called Democratic State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman a "radical" over her support for changing state sex-ed guidelines to promote scientifically accurate instruction in public schools, according to footage of his remarks recorded by the anti-migrant group Patriot Movement AZ.
The speaker made the remarks during a Saturday event sponsored by Family Watch International, an anti-LGBT nonprofit that has been called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I stand by my opinions of Planned Parenthood and Superintendent Hoffman, but I sincerely hope that they will prove me wrong,” he said in a statement to Phoenix New Times.
Republican State Senator Sylvia Allen also spoke against comprehensive sex education the event, which was held at American Leadership Academy, a charter school in Gilbert.
Also based in Gilbert, Family Watch International has claimed without evidence that comprehensive sex ed "promotes promiscuity" and "high-risk sexual behaviors" among children. As opposed to abstinence-only education, comprehensive sex education typically teaches students an array of methods to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including contraception and abstinence. Comprehensive sex ed also teaches about consent and boundaries in a manner inclusive of LGBT students.
Bowers spoke after an hour-long presentation by Family Watch International founder Sharon Slater that derided sex education programs that teach about different gender identities, sex acts, and contraceptive methods. After thanking Slater, Bowers floated a conspiracy theory that Planned Parenthood has an "insidious" financial motive for promoting comprehensive sex ed.
"They have created the business plan of hell, that we can sexualize millions of children who will investigate and play together," Bowers said of Planned Parenthood, while mirroring language favored by anti-comprehensive sex ed groups. "And what would be the results? Sexually transmitted diseases, which we treat for money. Abortion, which we do for money. Even the heinous selling of body parts, which we do for money. And the treatment of AIDS across the world, which we do for money."
Tayler Tucker, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Arizona, said Bowers invoked rhetoric typically used by a "small, very extremist" group of fringe conservatives.
"We're at a point right now where anti-abortion activists like Rusty Bowers are given a platform to spew inflammatory language, outlandish myths, things that have been disproved time and time again, and to rob people of comprehensive sex education, which actually reduces the rates of sexual transmitted diseases and sexual violence and sexual assault," Tucker told New Times.
During his speech, Bowers went on to discuss the story of the mother of one his grandchildren, who he said sought an abortion from Planned Parenthood but was dissuaded over high costs. He credited a 2015 law signed by Governor Doug Ducey that limited state dollars from going toward abortions.
Returning to the topic of comprehensive sex education, Bowers invoked stories of "seductions by teachers of their students" and said "I don't think this helps." He referenced sting operations of sex offenders seeking children "13-years-old or younger."
"Now I have state-sponsored pedophilia?" Bowers said. "How can I condone that and think about my children? How can I accept this and think of my grandchildren?"
Toward the end of his eight-minute-long speech, Bowers criticized Superintendent Hoffman for proposing amendments to the state's rules on sex education this summer that would have removed language she called "outdated."
"I don't feel radical, but I know a radical," Bowers said. "When Kathy Hoffman promotes this, I don't have to have any questions about radicalizing children and their sexuality. I hope you'll join with me to support legislators who accept their responsibility to protect children."
In a phone call, Hoffman called the remarks of Bowers "offensive and outrageous." Referring to Bowers and Senator Allen, Hoffman added: "They are clearly using scare tactics and propaganda for their own political gain and using these scare tactics to mobilize their base."
Hoffman's failed proposal would have deleted a line prohibiting the "teaching of abnormal, deviate, or unusual sexual acts and practices" and replaced it with language requiring sex ed to "be medically and scientifically accurate." Hoffman's proposal also would have added a line requiring schools to "provide medically accurate instruction" on preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
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As the Arizona Republic reported in June, opponents of the changes flooded Arizona Department of Education board meetings while the changes were being discussed.
The push to update the state's sex ed guidelines followed the Legislature's repeal of an old law that barred public-school instructors from teaching lessons that "promote homosexual" lifestyles. Hoffman's suggestion, if it had passed, would not have directly changed sex-ed curricula, which are written by each public school district.
Family Watch International's Saturday event occurred in the wake of a raucous debate in Tuscon Unified School District over comprehensive sexuality education, in which opponents of a proposed curriculum falsely claimed that it sexualized children and spoke out against its inclusion of nontraditional gender identities.
Facing public pressure, the district delayed a vote on a new curriculum.