New state law would require anti-abortion messaging in nursing home bathrooms

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with comments from LeadingAge Oklahoma

Oklahoma nursing homes will be required to post anti-abortion signs in their public bathrooms by 2018 under a new law.

The Department of Health met Tuesday to discuss the regulation's details. Currently, the signs are expected to be posted within the next year in public restrooms of business governed by the agency, including hospitals, restaurants, residential care facilities and nursing homes. The signs, requested by Oklahomans for Life, would share information on the “many public and private agencies” willing to help pregnant women “whether you choose to keep your child or to place him or her for adoption.”

A provision calling for the signs' creation was included in an anti-abortion law that passed the state Legislature this year.

However, industry groups have balked at the estimated costs and legislators were meeting this week to find alternatives. Oklahomans for Life requested the bill with the caveat that the cost of installing the signs be covered by Legislature-appointed funds, the Associated Press reported. That approval was not granted, leaving businesses to foot the estimated $2.3 million needed to create the signs.

In a letter sent last month to Don Maisch, general counsel for the health department, Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers President and CEO Nico Gomez expressed concerns with the signs' “unreasonable costs of up to $80 per sign that must be multiplied by the number of bathrooms at each facility as well as the labor cost of installation.”

Gomez added that the regulation “creates an unnecessary hardship and greater proportional negative impact on our small businesses because our facilities have many restrooms and the primary individuals utilizing those restrooms are seniors beyond reasonable child bearing age.”

Mary Brinkley, executive director of LeadingAge Oklahoma, told McKnight's that the initial legislation requiring the signs raised more questions than answers about the signs' intent.

"In the initial rule, with the font size, the sign would have been in excess of two by three feet," Brinkley said. "They've actually backed off of the size ... but it is a very politically motivated thing to put up a sign with no contact information, no confidentiality, no knowledge that there will be counselors. What is the real intent?"

Jim Hooper, president of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, told the AP that his group was not concerned with the information the signs would share, but noted “this is just the wrong way to do it.”

“It's just another mandate on small businesses. It's not just restaurants. It includes hospitals, nursing homes,” Hooper added. “It just doesn't make sense."