In the wake of the latest anti-abortion law struck down earlier last month, anti-abortion activists in Oklahoma are now taking a different, more innovative route: social media.
The newest anti-abortion bill in the state — dubbed the “Humanity of the Unborn Child Act” — originally required anti-abortion signage be hung in all public restrooms in the state, whether in hospitals, schools, restaurants, or other businesses. The signs would have 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.”
Following public outcry, however, Senator A.J. Griffin (R), who sponsored the original bill, proposed an amendment to require the signs only at abortion providers, while also instructing the state Health Department to launch an anti-abortion social media campaign.
“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.”
The Humanity of the Unborn Child Act is yet another attempt by lawmakers to restrict abortion access with little regard to providing accurate medical information or adequate services to low-income women and children.
“What it’s actually doing is using taxpayers’ money to shame women for making their own choices for their bodies and their families,” Shaista Fenwick, a board member on the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, said. “Their goal is to manipulate information. Oklahomans deserve accurate information about their medical needs — and they are not giving women reliable information.”
In fact, according to a research team from Rutgers University, nearly one-third of the statements on the state health department’s website mentioned in the bill are medically inaccurate, scientifically incorrect, or misleading. When broken down by trimester, the results are even more shocking. More than 46 percent of the statements pertaining to the first trimester of pregnancy — the only trimester during which a woman in Oklahoma can get a legal abortion at any time — were inaccurate.
And problems with the bill don’t end there. In a state where 1 in 5 children live in poverty and where the budgets for the social safety net programs that low-income women and families rely on have been cut annually for years, the bill also misleads Oklahoma women on the resources the state actually provides.
“As our state’s budget dwindles, we would love to see our lawmakers address the real issues that Oklahoma families face such as childcare, healthcare, and safe neighborhoods,” Misty Foley McKenna, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, said in a statement. “For some reason, our state lawmakers continue to waste precious resources on attempts to undermine safe access to abortion care.”
The state resources directory is composed mainly of toll-free hotlines, the websites of Oklahoma’s Native American tribes, and two statewide agencies: Soonercare, which administers Medicaid for the state, and the Department for Human Services, which provides a range of services for low-income Oklahomans, including food benefits, temporary cash assistance, and child welfare and child care assistance programs.
Both Soonercare and DHS have experienced deep cuts in the state in recent years, due in part to policy choices by state officials. Since 2004, cuts to the top income tax rate in Oklahoma have resulted in $1.02 billion in state revenue lost per year. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, had those tax cuts not been implemented, Oklahoma DHS and Soonercare alone would have gained a combined $236.2 million in the 2016 fiscal year.
Those cuts have real impacts on the very Oklahomans legislators are trying to reach with the Humanity of the Unborn Child Act. Due to budget cuts, the share of low-income families in Oklahoma receiving assistance through the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program is fewer than one in ten, and is less than half the national average. In June, the Department of Education was forced to cut funding for early childhood education by $2.5 million in the face of a 30 percent cut to the agency’s programs and activities budget. And as winter temperatures drop across the nation, state DHS officials say they have stopped promoting the agency’s winter heating assistance program — and they warn that, thanks to the $100 million in budget cuts the agency faced this year, the funding may not even be there to assist everyone who has already applied.
Add that to the state’s recent elimination of the last remaining funding for “Parents as Teachers,” a parenting training initiative for disadvantaged families, and last year’s nearly 75 percent cut to earned income tax credits for low-income Oklahomans, and the list of resources actually available to low-income pregnant women in the state quickly starts to dwindle. That’s something that activists in the state say isn’t fair to women in Oklahoma — and is what state officials should really be focusing their time on.
“Oklahoma is home to some incredibly strong, beautiful women. Women in this state truly have shook the earth. So I think it is important we treat them, their children, and their grandchildren well,” Fenwick said. “This regulation is not an accurate representation of what the state needs and it’s certainly not an accurate representation of what it deserves.”