As efforts to block access to abortions fail, misinformation campaigns become ever more important to the anti-abortion movement.
By Kate Wheeling
Mary Fallin speaks at the Republican National Convention on July 18th, 2016. (Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Oklahoma lawmakers are forcing restaurants, hospitals, schools, and other businesses to post signs in restrooms discouraging pregnant woman from having an abortion. Today, the state board of health is mulling over regulations for the signs, which direct women to resources for pregnancy and adoption.
The new regulation is part of the state’s effort to become “an abortion-free society.” It is part of the “Humanity of the Unborn Child Act,” which was signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin in June and requires the State Department of Health to create informational materials about alternatives to abortion. The new signs would read:
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.
Oklahoma will force businesses to post the signs by January of 2018, but the legislature did not provide any funding to do so—leaving businesses to cover the roughly $2.3 million it will cost to put up the signs. The Oklahoma Hospital Association estimated that the signs will cost the state’s hospitals $225,000, according to the Associated Press.
As a result, some otherwise unlikely alliances have been formed between local business owners and reproductive rights groups. “We don’t have any concern about the information they’re trying to get out to women about their babies and their pregnancy,” Jim Hooper, president of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, told the AP. “This is just the wrong way to do it. It’s just another mandate on small businesses.”
For many, the signs are more than just a financial burden—they represent a thinly veiled attack on both women’s health and reproductive rights. “This is the government using its police power to shame and stigmatize women who seek abortion care, plain and simple,” Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “This is government overreach at its worst — if the state truly cared about women’s health, they would provide accurate, unbiased information about access to the full range of reproductive health care services, including contraception, prenatal care, and abortion.”
Anti-abortion activists often use biased—or sometimes even factually incorrect—information to combat abortions—a constitutionally protected right. (Some states even have laws that require doctors to straight-up lie to their patients.) “While insulting, this bill is a drop in the bucket compared to all of the other attacks on abortion access Oklahoma has advanced, including a total abortion ban earlier this year,” Allen said. But, at least for now, the law appears to be on the side of reproductive rights; today, the Oklahoma Supreme Court blocked the state’s attempt to shut down abortion clinics with physicians without admitting privileges to local hospitals—a strategy pioneered by Texas.
But every win for reproductive rights in the state will make informational campaigns like the new bathroom signs even more important to Oklahoma lawmakers. If they can’t actually limit access to abortions for women in the state, they can at least try to trick them into thinking it’s not an option.