On Tuesday, Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner (D-Cleveland) will introduce a bill aimed at cracking down on prescription drugs like Viagra that treat erectile dysfunction. Turner’s legislation would make men jump through certain hoops — such as psychological screenings — before they could obtain the meds. The bill follows FDA recommendations to determine the underlying causes of erectile dysfunction — but that’s certainly not the only reason Turner is putting the measure forward.
“All across the country, including in Ohio, I thought since men are certainly paying great attention to women’s health that we should definitely return the favor,” Turner told TPM. Her bill is one of several pieces of legislation offered over the past several weeks by women lawmakers eager to prove a point about the raging contraception debate.
Their bills seek to regulate men’s sexual health, from Viagra to vasectomies, just as Republican-led state governments and Congress have zeroed in on access to abortion and family planning care.
Turner’s bill mimics language found in Ohio’s so-called Heartbeat Bill, which passed the Ohio state House and is now pending in the Senate. The bill would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, sometimes as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Turner’s bill, she says, offers men a taste of their own medicine — it would require physicians to inform patients in writing of the risks involved in taking erectile dysfunction drugs and requires men to sign a document acknowledging the risks, just like the anti-abortion bill does.
“I care about the health of men as well, and I thought it only fair that we illustrate that and make sure that a man is fully informed of the risks involved in taking these drugs and also the alternatives such as natural remedies or also celibacy,” Turner said.
Women legislators in other states have been making similar efforts.
Over a month ago, when the Virginia Senate was debating a bill to require women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound, state Sen. Janet Howell introduced an amendment to the bill that would have required men to get a rectal exam and cardiac stress tests before obtaining a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication. Her amendment failed 21-19 while the ultrasound bill ultimately passed. But Howell believes she made her point. “This is more of a message type of an amendment,” Howell told the Huffington Post, “so I was pleased to get 19 votes.”
Turner said the bills and amendments targeted at men represent “a universal mindset across this country among women, especially those of us who are policymakers, to really point out the hypocrisy in terms of women’s equal access to health care.”
Highlighting hypocrisy is precisely what Georgia state Rep. Yasmin Neal (D-Jonesboro) had in mind when she proposed a bill in February to limit men’s access to vasectomies. Her legislation, which would only allow vasectomies for men who would die or suffer serious health consequences without one, was introduced in response to HB 594, a bill being considered in the Georgia state House to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. “Thousands of children are deprived of birth in this state every year because of the lack of state regulation over vasectomies,” Neal said in a video message.
Last week, nine women lawmakers in the Missouri Legislature proposed a similar vasectomy bill in response to a symbolic vote taken by the state House objecting to the Obama administration’s contraception coverage mandate.
“In determining whether a vasectomy is necessary, no regard shall be made to the desire of a man to father children, his economic situation, his age, the number of children he is currently responsible for, or any danger to his wife or partner in the event a child is conceived,” the bill states.
Turner believes the Heartbeat Bill has a good chance of making it through the Senate, but as for her legislation, she hopes “that it will cause our Senate here in Ohio to pause for a minute and kind of reflect on what we’re doing and what we’re subjecting women to.” Turner expects the bill to be assigned to a committee and hopes the chairperson will allow testimony on it. “I’m serious about this, this is a serious matter, and the drug in question does have some serious risks,” said Turner. “I plan to go all the way with this legislation.”
Image from Dmitriy Shironosov / Shutterstock
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.