Oklahoma hospitals, restaurants may be forced to pay for anti-abortion signs in restrooms

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma will force hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and public schools to post signs inside public restrooms directing pregnant women where to receive services as part of an effort to reduce the number of abortions.

The State Board of Health on Tuesday will consider regulations for the signs, which were tucked into a law passed this year. The signs are expected to cost more than $2.3 million to implement.

The law requires the signs to be posted by January 2018.

Groups representing hospitals and restaurants complain that the new requirements are an expensive, unfunded mandate.

An anti-abortion group requested the measure. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. A.J. Griffin, says it may need to be revised.

“Half of all pregnancies in Oklahoma are unplanned. The language I authored in House Bill 2797 simply seeks to let people know there are many resources available for those facing this situation and who think the only way to deal with it is abortion. But beyond that, we want to make sure they know where to turn for prenatal care and other services to help improve the health and well-being of their babies.

“Without proper prenatal care and other critical services, these children can be a tremendous risk for poor health, neglect, abuse and worse. Although there has been some improvement in the rate of infant deaths, Oklahoma is still among the worst states in the nation for infant mortality. Prenatal healthcare can make all the difference and it is available to those who can’t access it on their own, but many women don’t know where to go. And while our abortion rate is actually relatively low, each year there are still thousands of unborn children whose lives are ended through abortion. I believe many of those women felt like they had no alternative, but they’ll be haunted by the pain and guilt of that decision for the rest of their lives.

“As to the logistics of making information available through notifications in public restrooms, the language clearly states that this is contingent on the availability of funds being appropriated by the Legislature specifically for this purpose. Also, it should be pointed out that the bill included no fines or penalties—it really would be on an honor system. Furthermore, the cost I’ve seen reported—an estimated $2.3 million—seems far too high. But in the coming weeks and throughout the legislative session we will be listening to the concerns of our business community and working with them to ensure this effort to protect Oklahoma infants will not be overly burdensome.”—Sen. AJ Griffin, R-Guthrie.

Executive Director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, Ryan Kiesel, also released the following statement on the bill:

 “In the latest of their absurd and callous efforts to shame and stigmatize women, Oklahoma legislators from both parties have outdone themselves with a new government requirement that commands thousands of private businesses to turn their bathroom walls into billboards for a government anti-abortion statement.

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. Requiring business owners to communicate a biased statement to their patrons falls well outside the State’s interest to regulate business. The ACLU of Oklahoma is considering a range of legal options to halt this government command to display its propaganda on bathroom walls.

In the wake of public outcry from the business community, some legislators now promise a supposed quick fix to this problematic law in the upcoming session. 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.”