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Members of the House Health and Human Services Committee signed off on a resolution denouncing pornography on February 7.EXPAND
Members of the House Health and Human Services Committee signed off on a resolution denouncing pornography on February 7.
Joseph Flaherty

Is Porn Really a 'Crisis?' Arizona Lawmakers Keep Up Crusade

The 54th Arizona Legislature began last month by tackling big topics like the state's water problems, education funding, and taxes.

At this point, observers can add one more priority to the list: pornography.

So far during the new legislative session, Republican lawmakers have targeted porn with two eyebrow-raising proposals.

A resolution from Representative Michelle Udall would symbolically commit Arizona to fighting pornography as a dire public health crisis. Another proposal sponsored by Representative Gail Griffin is far more outlandish. Her bill would tax individuals seeking to access pornography over the Internet through a $20 fee in order to help fund the construction of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

And although Griffin's porn-for-the-wall bill has not received a hearing, the anti-pornography crusade advanced one step further this week, when Arizona legislators on the House Health and Human Services committee endorsed the resolution declaring pornography a crisis.

On Thursday, that measure was received with dismay by lawmakers on the committee who said their efforts ought to focus on improving sex education in schools.

Udall's HCR 2009 describes pornography as having pervasive, damaging effects on families and relationships, and says porn contributes to sex trafficking and the abuse of women and children.

To counteract these effects, the resolution states, "this state and the nation must systemically prevent exposure and addiction to pornography, educate individuals and families about its harms and develop pornography recovery programs."

Representative Nancy Barto, the Republican chair of the committee, called the issue "long overdue."

"I think by sticking our heads in the sand over it, we're denying parents and educators the opportunity to identify it and call it what it is, based on the research, based on the testimonies," Barto said at the meeting.

The Health and Human Services gave the resolution a due-pass recommendation on a vote of 5-3.

Democratic Representative Amish Shah, who is a physician, did not side one way or the other and instead voted "present."

He thanked Udall for citing peer-reviewed research, but said the issue deserves further study. "I'm striving to understand this from this perspective," Shah said. "I'm not sure it meets the level of a crisis, but certainly a public health concern."

During the public comment portion of the meeting, legislators on the committee heard from several members of the public who gave alarming stories about the effects of pornography.

Jill Geigle, the president of the anti-pornography Arizona Family Council, told the committee that parents are doing all they can to keep pornography away from children and off school grounds. 

“We are raising now generations of children who are being influenced on this, and it is having a public health crisis within those generations," Geigle said. "And we are seeing it start to manifest in many different public health ways."

The nonprofit organization's website says it "fights against pornography by educating local officials, creating a community standard of decency, and providing accurate information to the public about the dangers of pornography."

Democratic legislators who voted no on the resolution criticized the measure as an unnecessary and hyperbolic distraction from other more urgent health problems. "We have so many other issues that we have not dealt with," Representative Alma Hernandez said.

Representative Pam Powers-Hannley, a Democrat, said she has read research about the negative effects of pornography. But she also brought up additional research documenting the effects of exposure to excessive violence, real or on-screen, and the effects of ubiquitous electronic devices.

She thanked Udall for sponsoring the measure, but said, "I think that this is a much broader issue than what we have in front of us today."

Powers-Hannley reminded legislators that she has sponsored HB 2578, which would require school districts to provide medically accurate and comprehensive sex education. Under her bill, parents could have their child opt out of sex education.

"I would love to have this committee hear it," she said.

Under Arizona law, schools are allowed – but not required – to teach sex education. Schools that choose to offer sex education pertaining to HIV or AIDS must "promote abstinence" and cannot teach a curriculum that promotes a "homosexual life-style" or "suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex."

Like Powers-Hannley, Democratic Representative Kelli Butler asked lawmakers to consider legislation to address the issues raised in the resolution by pursuing medically accurate sex education in schools.

"For me, this is blaming a whole lot of problems on this one issue," she said. "And I just don't think that there is necessarily the science to back up those claims."

Although he ultimately voted yes on the resolution, Republican Representative Jay Lawrence raised a counterargument: television.

The effects of television, he suggested, may be just as pernicious for young people as the proliferation of pornography. Lawrence said television often shows "bodices" and "women who dress salaciously, if you will."

"It isn't just pornography," Lawrence said. "It's your everyday life."

The next step for the measure is a vote by the full House. When asked if House Speaker Rusty Bowers intends to schedule the resolution for a floor vote, spokesperson Matt Specht wrote via email, "A decision has not been made on that yet."

If approved by the entire Legislature, the resolution would have little to no practical application, but it would serve as a symbolic statement of lawmakers' commitment to combating porn.

During the same meeting, the committee unanimously approved a different resolution sponsored by Representative Walter Blackman declaring sexual exploitation and sex trafficking to be a public health crisis. 

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