Arizona considers calling porn a public health crisis

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Arizona Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, introduced a resolution declaring pornography a crisis, saying it leads "to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts."

Posted: Feb 10, 2019 4:10 AM
Updated: Feb 10, 2019 4:10 AM

Pornography may soon be considered a public health crisis in Arizona -- depending on the fate of a resolution in the state.

Arizona state Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, introduced a resolution declaring "pornography is a crisis leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts."

The resolution says pornography "perpetuates a sexually toxic environment that damages all areas of our society."

CNN has reached out to Udall for comment, but has not heard back. But in reports on local media, she cited the effects of excessive erotic images on the society.

"Like the tobacco industry, the pornography industry has created a public health crisis," Udall told lawmakers, according to the Arizona Republic. "Pornography is used pervasively, even by minors."

The resolution passed a committee vote along party lines and now moves to the Arizona House, where Republicans hold a slim majority.

Opponents agree that while there are dangers in excessive porn, the bill misses the underlying problem.

"If we really want to look at this, we should start with education. It's embarrassing that we are one of the states that does not have medically accurate sex education. In testimony, they were trying to blame everything on pornography. That is a stretch," said Democrat Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, who is sponsoring a different bill, HB2577, that focuses on medically accurate sex education.

"I don't disagree that the bill needs more teeth," said Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, who ultimately voted for the measure, according to the Arizona Republic. "That is our goal."

The debate nationwide

National organizations have been debating how to classify pornography for years.

In a 2012 edition of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Crisis, Emergency, and Risk Communication manual (PDF), crises are described as "time-sensitive" and crisis communication tends to occur when "an unexpected and threatening event requires an immediate response."

The CDC has told CNN it "does not have an established position on pornography as a public health issue. Pornography can be connected to other public health issues like sexual violence and occupational HIV transmission."

The Republican party voted to add an amendment adding pornography as a "public health crisis" to the party's platform in 2016.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation agrees with the Republican Party, said Dawn Hawkins, the center's senior vice president and executive director.

Hawkins said that some youth view pornography before they reach puberty, and it may be educating them about sex, which she said is disturbing because about 88% of porn videos depict physical aggression, according to a 2010 study published in the journal Violence Against Women.

Emily Rothman, an associate professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, argues it is not so simple.

"I think there are 'public health implications' of pornography," Rothman said. "But just like anything else, it matters what type of pornography we are talking about, who is watching it, why they are watching it, what they do with that experience, and how it interacts with any pre-existing problems they have going on, such as a propensity for violence."

Utah was the first state in the nation to declare pornography a public health crisis in 2016, but measures have been passed in 11 other states since.

Utah's resolution has no punishing powers; it doesn't specifically ban pornography in the state.

Instead, a spokesman for Utah's Gov. Gary Herbert said, resolutions against pornography are intended to increase awareness and education.

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