December 15, 2016 (Fault Lines) — 2016 saw public bathrooms become a major battleground in the culture wars. Earlier this year, North Carolina grabbed national headlines when it passed the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act,” which required individuals to use public restrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate, as opposed to their gender identity. Now Oklahoma is jumping on the bathroom legislation bandwagon, albeit with a different intention- to persuade women not to get abortions.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed the Humanity of the Unborn Child Act into law, which will require all restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes and any other facilities licensed by the state Health Department to post the following “life-affirming” sign in their public restrooms by January, 2018:
There are many public and private agencies willing and able to help you carry your child to term and assist you and your child after your child is born, whether you choose to keep your child or to place him or her for adoption. The State of Oklahoma strongly urges you to contact them if you are pregnant.
It’s still unclear whether the signs will be posted in the bathrooms for both men and women.
The Act is being billed as a “public health campaign” that will “clearly and consistently teach that abortion kills a living human being.” The bill also requires the State Department of Education to introduce materials in public schools with “the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society.” Unsurprisingly, these “educational materials” are prohibited from including any “component of human sexuality education other than those included in science education standards.”
To make matters worse, the Legislature neglected to approve any money for the new signs (Oops!). This means that businesses and hospitals will be required to pony up an estimated $2.3 million to post them.
The law is already eliciting strong complaints from groups representing hospitals and restaurants, who have made it clear that they are okay with the paternalistic signage as long as they don’t have to pay for them.
“We don’t have any concern about the information they’re trying to get out to women about their babies and their pregnancy. This is just the wrong way to do it,” said Jim Hooper, president of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association. “It’s just another mandate on small businesses. It’s not just restaurants. It includes hospitals, nursing homes. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Beleaguered women’s rights advocates (who have been fighting tooth and nail to keep Oklahoma’s four remaining abortion providers in business) have also been vocal in their contempt for the new “life-affirming” bathroom signs.
Misty Foley McKenna, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, criticized lawmakers in a statement, saying:
As our states budget dwindles, we would love to see our lawmakers address the real issues that Oklahoma families face such as childcare, healthcare, and safe neighborhoods. For some reason, our state lawmakers continue to waste precious resources on attempts to undermine safe access to abortion care.
And to make matters even worse, the sign legislation actually represents a softer approach on the part of pro-life lawmakers to lower Oklahoma’s (already low) abortion rate. Earlier this year, (pro-life) Gov. Mary Fallin reluctantly vetoed a bill that attempted to designate abortion as a felony, the Constitution notwithstanding.
Beyond the unfunded mandate, the issue of whether the state has an interest in advocating against the exercise of a constitutional right has implications beyond the politics of abortion. Just as it might be viewed as unseemly should a state require the posting of a sign that says, “have all the sex you like. You can always abort tomorrow,” the sign could similarly advise, “You can refuse to consent to a search, but then, what do you have to hide?”
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No wonder they have so many earthquakes!