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Saturday June 24th, 2017 9:53AM

Oklahoma to require restroom signs in anti-abortion effort

By The Associated Press
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma plans to 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 abortions in the state.

The State Board of Health on Tuesday approved regulations for the signs. Businesses and other organizations will have to pay an estimated $2.3 million to put up the signs because the Legislature didn't approve any money for them.

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." State Board of Health attorney Donald Maisch says the Legislature and governor must ratify the board's signage rules before they are scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

Groups representing hospitals and restaurants are among those complaining that the new requirements are an expensive, unfunded mandate from the Legislature.

"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," said Jim Hooper, president of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association. "It's just another mandate on small businesses. It's not just restaurants. It includes hospitals, nursing homes. It just doesn't make sense."

The anti-abortion group Oklahomans for Life requested the bill. The sponsor, Sen. A.J. Griffin, said she may revise the measure in the upcoming legislative session to more narrowly target it to exclude some facilities.

"I do see how it is going to need to be tempered a tad," said Griffin, a Republican from Guthrie. "We need to make sure we have something that's reasonable and still effective."

Under the law, the signs would state: "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 would also include a link to the Health Department's website.

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 State Department of Health who has worked on the rules, said the signage requirements apply 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.

"There is definitely a cost involved in moving forward with this," Maisch said.

The Oklahoma Hospital Association projected it would cost at least $225,000 for signage at the state's 140 licensed hospitals, with the fiscal impact on other licensed industries estimated at about $2.1 million.

Tony Lauinger, executive director of Oklahomans for Life, said the group's intent was for the Health Department to produce the signage, but only if the Legislature appropriated funds to do so.

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Online:

House Bill 2797: http://bit.ly/21e4wgw

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Associated Press writer Tim Talley contributed to this report.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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