Oklahoma mandates pro-life signs in public facilities

Abortion | Pro-life advocates take a page out of the abortion industry’s playbook for posters encouraging pregnant women to carry babies to term
by Bob Brown
Posted 12/14/16, 03:04 pm

Within a year, restrooms in Oklahoma’s motels, medical facilities, and restaurants may contain signs encouraging pregnant women to carry their babies to term. On Tuesday, by an 8-1 vote, the Oklahoma State Department of Health approved regulations requiring all department-licensed facilities to place specially worded signs in their public restrooms.

The new rules would even apply to Oklahoma’s abortion centers.

The regulations, set to take effect Jan. 1, 2018, are part of requirements outlined in Oklahoma’s Humanity of the Unborn Child Act. Both the House and Senate passed the law by overwhelming margins, and Gov. Mary Fallin signed it into law June 6.

The act’s stated goal of moving Oklahoma toward an “abortion-free society” emerges in the signs’ wording:

“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.”

The signs must also display the web address of a health department information portal and a statement explaining the signs’ origin: “This sign is created, produced, and displayed in compliance with the Humanity of the Unborn Child Act.”

State Sen. A.J. Griffin, one of the bill’s sponsors, confirmed abortion centers are not exempt.

“They would be included because they are licensed” by the health department, Griffin told me. She also said requiring the signs in the state’s public schools, colleges, and universities is a “definite possibility.”

Oklahoma’s sign requirement serves as a direct contrast to pro-abortion efforts to force pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to hand out abortion center contact information, although Griffin said her state hasn’t faced such a threat from pro-abortion legislators.

But other jurisdictions have. Although federal judges eventually ruled against such ordinances passed in Austin, Texas, Baltimore, and Montgomery County, Md., the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in October upheld a California law requiring pregnancy resource centers to provide clients a written statement with contact information for state-funded contraception and abortions. A similar law is set to go into effect in Illinois next month.

Although it has initial approval, Oklahoma’s regulation still must go through a legislative approval process.

“None of this is final, but the goal is to link women to as many services as possible without causing an undue burden on businesses,” Griffin explained. The services would not include abortion centers because state law forbids the health department from referring women for abortion, she added.

The regulations require the state-licensed facilities and businesses to produce and display the signs at their own expense in every restroom—men’s and women’s—on their premises. One projection puts the cost near $2.3 million for compliance across the state, including $225,000 for Oklahoma’s 140 state hospitals. But Griffin dismissed such estimates.

“It’s bureaucratic nonsense,” she said. “All businesses have to do is print a reasonably legible poster” with the required wording. She did say she’d work in the upcoming legislative session to tweak the regulations to exclude specific facilities, such as nursing homes.

Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the National Abortion Federation did not respond to requests for comment.

On Tuesday, pro-life efforts in Oklahoma also took a step backward. The state’s Supreme Court blocked a 2014 law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion center. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar Texas law.

According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, from 1991 to 2011, Oklahoma’s abortion rate was about half the national rate.

Bob Brown

Bob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Thu, 12/15/2016 02:47 am

    An encouraging strategy.  Why should pro-lifers always play defence?  Many (all?) of the recent legal strategies are efforts to claw back on RoevWade.  This puts the issue front and center as it could/should have been pre-RvW.

  • Graced
    Posted: Thu, 12/15/2016 09:17 am

    Love the idea behind this but wondering how we can consistently support it if our argument against the California legislation is based on freedom of speech merits?

  • Cavanaugh's picture
    Posted: Thu, 12/15/2016 10:52 am

    This is a most-welcomed new strategy - and i appreciate WORLD's reporting!  

  • stephenc
    Posted: Thu, 12/15/2016 12:06 pm

    First, the headline is a little misleading - "Public Facilities" in this context sounds, at first, like "government facilities," and calling privately-owned motels, privately-owned medical facilities, and restaurants "public facilities" is risky for anyone interested in preserving the rights of private business owners to run their businesses as they see fit.

    Second, "Graced" is exactly right in her comment - this has almost exactly the same problems as the legislation in California to force pro-life care facilities to post signs referring to abortion providers.

    This is an awful idea. Everyone who owns a business should have the right to run their business how they want to. Government legislation requiring people to post signs, in their own businesses, that they may disagree with the intent of, is tyranny, not freedom.

    To be clear - I think there are some things that are more important than democracy, and abortion is one of them. I think abortion should be illegal even if a majority disagrees. However, *disagreeing* should never be illegal. People should be forced not to slaughter their unborn children. If they disagree, though, the government should never be permitted to force them to display signage for what they disagree with.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Thu, 12/15/2016 06:04 pm

    I think I agree in principle. However, given that pro-abortion people are trying to trying to compell speech in the opposite direction in several states, this might be an effective way to demonstrate the dangers of that approach overall. They will (hopefully) find it hard to protest the one and defend the other. I would imagine a pro-life defense of the law going something like this: Well, we had some concerns about the impact of this approach on businesses, but since you were already using it to favor your position, we didn't want to tie our hands unduely by not doing the same. (And there is at least one important distinction--hopefully it will be hard to find someone who claims that their conscience is violated by giving women an additional "choice". There's nothing stopping the buisness owners from putting up another sign with information of their choice beside it.)

  • Nate T
    Posted: Fri, 12/16/2016 12:38 pm

    I think you have a point that this may not pass the various courts scrutiny but I do see a some key differences with this law and the laws promoted to make pro-life groups provide refferals and information regarding abortion. All sorts of businesses are responsible to post certain rules/regulations/notices (for example certain rights employess have whether public/private). Health care providers are certainly one where significant regulation is necessary (even if there is, perhaps, too much or harmful regulation). To require pro-life groups to this information goes against their beliefs and very few actually provide medical assistance. In contrast, no abortion group openly argues that abortion is the right choice in every case. so it is not a violation of their convictions to ask that other alternatives be discussed. I think this is typical in the medical profession to offer a variety of options when discussing any medical issue, why can't a state ask that adoption or parenting the child be included when discussing abortion. 

  • stephenc
    Posted: Fri, 12/16/2016 01:55 pm

    Laura - I would love it if this got progressives to stop and think. As a temporary tactic to prove a point about where government authority should stop, I would probably be OK with this. But I don't think that's how it will work. This last election cycle has me convinced that the old adages about power are true, and that once that power is handed over to pro-lifers, they won't want it to be temporary or merely a tactic. I'm afraid that if our side stoops to trying to compel speech and thought, even as a demonstration of the problems with that, we'll corrupt our own side and our own people. We'll do far more damage to the cause if we start trying to compel people to mouth agreement with us than in any other scenario.

    Nate - first I don't really care about court scrutinty. I'm arguing from what governments should and shouldn't do on first principles. Having said that, I don't buy your distinction between these laws and the California laws. If anything, these laws are broader. The California laws applied to healthcare facilities - in other words, they at least fit into the category associated with your argument about business being required to display certain signage. But the government's right to compel signage is a right to compel businesses to publish certain information relevant to those businesses and the legal rights of their customers. According to the article, though, these laws apply to basically every business that has to have a license - including motels and restaurants. So this isn't compelling any relevant information about motels, restaurants, and their customers. This is compelling the owners of such business to post a sign about a totally random subject. I get what you're saying about "not openly arguing that abortion is always the right choice", but I still think that a business owner could disagree, not so much with the text of the sign, but with what the sign implies in cultural context - because in cultural context it's not a neutral message, it's a pro-life message. Ergo, compelled publication of a position.