OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma Republican lawmaker on Friday abandoned a measure that required public bathrooms to display anti-abortion signs after an outcry from business leaders and health providers who said it would cost millions of dollars.
Republican Sen. A.J. Griffin, who had sponsored the original bill passed by the Legislature, proposed an amendment that would require the signs only at abortion providers and would direct the state Department of Health to launch a social media campaign on how to avoid abortions.
The State Board of Health on Tuesday approved regulations requiring posting of the signs in public bathrooms at hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and public schools advising pregnant women where to find services to avoid abortion. Griffin said the department is now being asked to halt any further work toward implementing the regulations while her new proposal is considered by the Legislature, which convenes Feb. 6.
"It was never intended to be a burden on businesses or health providers," Griffin said in a statement. "Changing to a social media campaign will actually broaden the reach and make linking pregnant women to services even more visible."
Griffin said the changes preserve the intent of the law while responding to private businesses concerned about a cost estimated at $2.3 million.
Republicans hold overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature, as well as the governor's office.
The provision for the signs was tucked into a law that the Legislature passed this year that requires the state to develop informational material "for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society."
"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," Jim Hooper, president of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, said on Monday before the regulations were approved.
Tony Lauinger, executive director of Oklahomans for Life, the organization that requested the measure, said the group's intent was for the Health Department to produce the signage, but only if the Legislature approved funds to do so.
In written comments provided to the Health Department, the Tulsa Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy called the proposed regulations "completely unnecessary and unwanted" and said they would provide a significant financial burden on already stressed state agencies, including the departments of Health and Education.
Don Maisch, an attorney for the health department, said the signage requirements applied to public restrooms of any entity that is regulated by the agency, including hospitals, hotels and motels, nursing homes, residential care facilities and most public schools.