Another State Jumps on the 'Porn=Public Health Crisis' Bandwagon

The fervor among conservatives to push states to declare pornography to be a "public health crisis" seemed to have waned a bit since last year, when only legislatures in Montana and Arizona passed resolutions to that effect, though one was floated in Texas but reportedly put off of the legislative calendar until 2021.

But now Michigan is in the anti-porners' crosshairs.

After all, it's a new year, and an election year to boot, so conservatives are doing everything they can to bolster their chances in November—and what better way to do that than to try to restart the "war on porn"?

The most recent anti-porn push began in early December of last year, when four congressional representatives—Jim Banks of Indiana, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, and Brian Babin of Texas (all Republicans, natch)—sent a letter to Attorney William Barr urging him to "enforce obscenity laws" by targeting more adult content for prosecution. Those thoughts were amplified in early March, when Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) sent his own letter to Barr targeting Pornhub specifically because of the site's alleged failure to remove a video of an alleged underage trafficking victim—a situation that inspired several national anti-porn and anti-sex-work groups to claim that Pornhub was rife with such videos, creating an online petition calling for the shutdown, and even holding protests outside Pornhub parent company MindGeek's Montreal headquarters.

However, the Michigan resolution, proposed by State Reps. Julie Calley and Ben Frederick (both Rs), is somewhat milder in tone when compared with most of the ones passed in other states, calling simply for "additional education, prevention and research" to determine porn's "detrimental impact" on society through the promotion of "sexually toxic expectations" and "unrealistic, inaccurate and violent" forms of sexual contact. (The full text of the resolution is not currently available.)

But of course, the resolution repeats many of the common false porn tropes, including claims that porn can "promote unhealthy sexual behaviors in adults, also leading to low-self-esteem and body image disorders among teenagers."

Moreover, it claims that "pornography normalizes sexual violence and abuse of women, men, and children." And perhaps most broadly, the resolution suggests, "Pornography may be biologically addictive."

Those claims, of course, have been thoroughly debunked by qualified researchers, and even the Lansing City Pulse, which posted an article on the resolution, questioned the "detrimental effects," but received no response from the resolution's sponsors when it inquired about that issue.

It may seem as though these "public health crisis" resolutions aren't worth paying much attention to, and such a claim was made about the first such resolution, which was passed in Utah in 2016. But what these resolutions do is to lay the groundwork for more intrusive free speech violations—and sure enough, four years after its passage, the Utah legislature has now passed a law that would require warning labels on all adult content, DVD or otherwise, that's sold within the state—in the case of video content, a 15-second clip before sexual content is visible; for publications, a visible label warning against the content's "effects." Assuming that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signs the bill, Utah would become the first state in the union to require such labels. Currently, only 18 U.S.C. §2257, the federal recordkeeping and labeling law, mandates such labels—and that law is still under challenge in federal court in Philadelphia.