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Arizona school district may edit biology textbook over abortion law

PHOENIX - A Phoenix suburb's school district may revise a high school honors biology textbook to add or remove content because of a 2-year-old state law on abortion-related instructional material.

The Gilbert Unified School District board voted 3-2 Tuesday night to have district officials consider how to change the textbook and report back to the board, the Arizona Republic reported.

At issue is a chapter in the textbook, "Campbell Biology: Concepts & Connections," that discusses abstinence, birth-control methods, tubal ligations and vasectomies, and drugs that can induce abortion.

The 2012 Arizona law says the state has a strong interest in "promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion." It prohibits instructional programs and material that don't give preference to childbirth and adoption over elective abortion.

No organization tracks Arizona school districts' selection or usage of textbooks, but Staci Burk, the president of the Gilbert board, said the district is likely the first to enforce the relatively new law.

Chris Kotterman, a state Department of Education official, told the board in an email that the textbook didn't appear to violate the law.

"In general, the mere mention of a means of medically inducing abortion does not automatically signal a lack of preference for childbirth and adoption ... the responsibility lies with the teacher to provide context for the student," said Kotterman, a deputy associate superintendent.

A lawyer for a Scottsdale-based conservative advocacy group's representative said the law's requirement applies whenever abortion is mentioned.

"The law is not limited to books in sex-education classes," Alliance for Defending Freedom attorney Natalie Decker said. "It applies any time a mention of abortion is included in instruction. This is not an ambiguous law."

Decker said the book could be redacted or have additional information pasted in.

"The cheapest, least disruptive way to solve the problem is to remove the page," said board member Daryl Colvin.

The execution director of the ACLU of Arizona urged the board in a letter to not change the book. Doing that would violate students' First Amendment rights, said Alessandra Soler.

"Suppressing facts that some people or organizations find disagreeable sets a terrible precedent," Soler said.

State Sen. Nancy Barto, a Phoenix Republican who sponsored the bill that became the 2012 law, attended the board's meeting and urged the board to follow the law to the letter.

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