An Oklahoma lawmaker succumbed to public pressure and revised a proposal that would have required businesses to post signs with a state-mandated anti-choice message in public bathrooms.
Sen. A.J. Griffin (R-Guthrie), the senate sponsor of the so-called Humanity of the Unborn Child Act (HB 2797), proposed an amendment to the law that would require the signs only be posted at facilities that provide abortion services, reported the Associated Press.
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said in a statement that the law was part of the Oklahoma legislator’s “absurd and callous efforts to shame and stigmatize women,” and that requiring businesses to post signs with state-mandated anti-choice language infringes on the right to free speech.
“In addition to being a politically motivated attack on Oklahoma’s women, the requirement that many businesses, including restaurants, post signs that advance a backwards and misogynist agenda amounts to forced political speech, which is impermissible under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” Kiesel added.
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HB 2797 requires the Department of Health develop informational material “for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society.”
Under the law, the department is required to develop and distribute educational and informational materials to the public through public service announcements and other media.
The materials must “clearly and consistently teach that abortion kills a living human being,” the law states.
After the state legislature passed the bill, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed it into law on June 6. The law was scheduled to take effect on November 1. The policy’s implementation, however, was “contingent on the provision of appropriated funds or revolving funds designated for the State Board of Education for such purpose.”
The Oklahoma State Board of Health approved the regulations during a public hearing on Tuesday, but the new law was met with skepticism from the public and criticism from the business community.
Bessie Hornbeck, an Oklahoma resident, told KFDX that while she identifies as “pro-life” (which most often means a person supports anti-abortion bills restricting access to reproductive health care) she does not understand how the signs will reduce the number of abortions in the state.
“I think our laws are getting completely out of hand on forcing everybody to do what they want them to do,” Hornbeck said. “Abortion is a decision each person has to make. But what’s good in making businesses put up … signs in there [sic] bathrooms.”
The criticism from the state’s business community has focused on the estimated $2.3 million cost for businesses to comply with the law, reported the Associated Press.
Jim Hopper, president of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, told KFDX that it would cost each restaurant around $100 to comply with the law. “It’s an unfunded mandate on small business,” Hopper said. “As far as the restaurant business is concerned, it’s not necessary.”
It would cost at least $225,000 to add signs to the state’s 140 licensed hospitals, according to an estimate by the Oklahoma Hospital Association.
The bill would amend HB 2797 by only requiring the signs be posted at abortion clinics. It would also direct the state Department of Health to launch a social media campaign to promote what the anti-choice movement claims are alternatives to abortion.
The bill would also modify the state-mandated language required to be included on the sign, by adding the phrase “have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.”
This change in language reflects a rhetorical shift in Griffin’s statements about the bills, from a singular focus on preventing abortion to one focused on promoting healthy pregnancies. This is similar to the effort by anti-choice lawmakers to justify restrictions on access to abortion and reproductive health care as protecting “women’s health and safety.” Texas lawmakers used this justification in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case, and it was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Griffin said in the statement that addressing reproductive health care is a “major health issue” in Oklahoma due to the state’s high infant mortality rate.
“The goal remains the same—to let women know they have options and available help to ensure they receive the care they need so their babies will be born healthy, whether they decide to raise their babies themselves or choose adoption,” Griffin said.
Griffin has requested that officials at the health department delay any further action toward implementation of the law while SB 30 is awaiting consideration in the upcoming legislative session.
Kiesel said that Griffin’s “quick fix” does not address the underlying problems with the law.
“We call on the legislators of both parties who voted for this campaign of shame and stigmatization against Oklahoma’s women to reassess their priorities and protect the fundamental rights and autonomy of women at the outset, not just when doing so accidentally aligns with political expediency,” Kiesel said.
The Oklahoma legislature convenes on February 6.