Free condoms at California’s public high schools? Here’s what bill proposes

Contraceptive access throughout California high schools was on the docket for Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee meeting, where people in support and opposition took the stand.

If it the bill progresses — and eventually passes in the Senate — free condoms would be available to all students starting the 2024-2025 school year.

Here’s what happened Wednesday:

About the bill

Senate Bill 541 would require California public high schools and charter schools to make condoms available to all students on or before the start of the 2024-2025 academic year.

“Nationwide, one in five individuals have contracted an STI and of that over 50% are those of ages between 15 and 24,” said Sen. Caroline Menjivar, D-Burbank, who introduced the bill.

The statistic she cites corresponds with a 2018 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study which also says the result is “nearly $16 billion in direct lifetime medical costs.”

Contraceptives would be free to students. Schools would also be required to post at least one notice with information specifying how to use the condoms.

Wednesday’s discussion revolved around high school students, but the language in the bill specifies it would apply to grades 7 through 12, which includes two years of middle school for some.

If passed and signed by the governor, the bill would create a state-mandated local program. It would also require schools to provide sexual health information with students and make them aware of the availability of free contraceptives.

Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, coauthored the bill.

What are people saying

Teens who are sexually active face significant barriers accessing contraceptives, including stigma, judgmental providers, limited transportation and cost, said Maura Decker, associate professor at the Institute for Health and Policy Studies School of Medicine, at the UC San Francisco, said during the public comment Wednesday.

To eliminate such barriers, SB-541 hopes to bring equitable access to all California high schools. The ideology isn’t new, Decker said, and has already been adopted by Los Angeles and San Francisco unified school districts.

In 2014, a total of 7.2% of high schools and 2.3% of middle schools across the U.S. made condoms available to students, according to the CDC.

Greg Burt with the California Family Council spoke in opposition of SB-541.

“Don’t you think it’s time to tell young people the truth that those with the most fulfilling and healthy sex lives are those who treat sex as a special and intimate act to be shared in a monogamous committed marriage,” Burt said.

In December an Instagram poll was conducted by the Teen Source, a sex education site for California teens, where 55% of teens voted that they would agree to use condoms if they were easier to obtain, Menijivar said.

Did the bill pass committee?

The bill passed the education committee 5 to 2. Now, it heads to the Senate Committee on Health. The hearing date is not set.

What do you want to know about life in Sacramento? Ask our service journalism team your top-of-mind questions in the module below or email