Resolution in Ohio House of Representatives Would Declare Pornography a Public Health Emergency

Republican lawmakers argue that Ohio needs to declare porn a health emergency to mitigate "a broad spectrum of individual and societal harms."

Jul 2, 2019 at 2:18 pm
click to enlarge State Rep. Jena Powell of Darke County - Ohio House of Representatives
Ohio House of Representatives
State Rep. Jena Powell of Darke County

When you think of emergency health concerns, things like infectious diseases or unsanitary conditions likely come to mind. But some GOP state lawmakers have worries about something else — sexually explicit media, especially in the age of the internet.

A resolution before the Ohio House of Representatives introduced by Republican State Rep. Jena Powell of Darke County would lead to a statewide declaration of a public health emergency due to the prevalence of pornography. 

Powell's proposed resolution wouldn't make any changes to current Ohio law or spending policies. She says the move is about raising awareness. 

"Potential detrimental effects of pornography on the user are that it can negatively impact healthy brain development and functioning, contribute to emotional and physical illnesses, shape deviant sexual desires and arousal, promote problematic or harmful sexual behaviors and addiction, and lead to difficulty in forming or maintaining positive, intimate relationships," Powell's legislation reads. 

The legislation later says the state should issue the resolution to fight against "a broad spectrum of individual and social harms" caused by pornography by investing in preventative education about pornography addiction and by urging "enforcement of obscenity laws and increased regulation of pornography on the Internet at the state and federal level in order to protect the state's citizens, minors in particular, from such exposure."

Legislatures in 15 states have considered similar resolutions, some patterned off of model legislation drafted by a group called the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Utah first passed such legislation in 2016, and other states, including Tennessee and Montana, have followed suit since. 

Porn critics like NCSE say that sexually explicit material is linked to human trafficking, sexual assault and teen sex and pregnancy. 

Some researchers, however, say those links are tenuous or nonexistent. A 2009 study by researchers at Texas A&M and University of Texas San Antonio, for example, showed that even as access to pornography has increased, sexual assault and rape cases have decreased in the United States and other industrialized nations. Another study published that same year in the journal Child Abuse Review, however, raised concerns about the effects of exposure to porn on youth, suggesting exposure to violent pornographic material increased sexually-coercive behaviors in young men.

Organizations that fight human trafficking consider pornography a form of trafficking if those involved are not willing participants, but most don't weigh in on whether the existence of pornography alone encourages trafficking.

Clamping down on porn via obscenity laws could be tricky: the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently found that many such laws banning pornography between consenting adults are unconstitutional.

Local conservative group Citizens for Community Values backs the effort. So far, the resolution has 18 Republican co-sponsors, including local representatives like Mount Lookout's Tom Brinkman and Middletown's Candice Keller.