The Oklahoma Legislature has outdone itself this time. In the latest of their absurd and callous efforts to shame and stigmatize women, Oklahoma legislators from both parties have passed into law a requirement that commands thousands of private businesses to turn their bathroom walls into billboards for anti-abortion propaganda.
As part of a misguided effort to reduce the number of abortions in Oklahoma, Rep. Ann Coody and Sen. AJ Griffin introduced HB 2797 — the “Humanity of the Unborn Child Act.” Among other troubling provisions, the new law requires public schools, hospitals, restaurants, and nursing homes to post signs in their restrooms directing women to services aimed at discouraging abortion.
It’s difficult to see what possible purpose this law could serve other than to shame and dissuade women from accessing their constitutionally protected right to a safe and legal medical procedure. The same legislation also requires the Oklahoma Department of Health to develop and distribute “educational” materials that “clearly and consistently teach that abortion kills a living human being.”
Shaming women and limiting their right to access medically necessary health care is certainly nothing new for the state of Oklahoma. From 20-week bans to outrageous TRAP laws and from annual attempts to grant full rights to a fetus to threatening doctors who perform abortions with felonies, the Oklahoma Legislature is as persistent as they are imprudent.
What’s new this time around is their attempt to conscript private businesses in their war 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. Requiring business owners to communicate a biased statement to their patrons falls well outside the state’s interest to regulate health and safety in these businesses. The ACLU of Oklahoma is considering a range of legal options to halt this government command to display its propaganda on bathroom walls.
Upon receiving the news that her unfunded mandate would cost businesses and chronically impoverished schools an estimated $2.3 million, Sen. Griffin indicated a willingness to revise the legislation to reduce the burden on businesses. While we certainly welcome any opportunity to reconsider the merits of this ludicrous new law, it is disheartening that the majority of Oklahoma’s legislators are unwilling to stand up for women unless doing so happens to align with monied business interests.
In the apparent absence of any desire to approach reproductive health care sensibly and with the rights of women in mind, we will continue to fight threats to Oklahoma’s women however they appear.