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In Protest, Democrats Zero In On Men's Reproductive Health

Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, a Democrat, has introduced legislation that would regulated men's use of reproductive health services.
Tony Dejak
Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, a Democrat, has introduced legislation that would regulated men's use of reproductive health services.

For perhaps the first time in recent history, male reproductive health is at the forefront of political debate.

In at least six states, lawmakers — all women and all Democrats — have proposed bills or amendments in the last few weeks that aim to regulate a man's access to reproductive health care. It's their way of responding to the ongoing debate around contraception and abortion, said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University.

Some would prohibit men from getting vasectomies, such as Georgia's House Bill 1116, which states:

"Thousands of children are deprived of birth in this state every year because of the lack of state regulation over vasectomies."

Others, like an amendment proposed by Oklahoma State Sen. Constance Johnson, restrict where a man can ejaculate, effectively outlawing all manner of sexual acts. The amendment says:

"Any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman's vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child."

And Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner recently put forward legislation that would require men seeking drugs like Viagra to first get a cardiac stress test to ensure their heart is ready for sexual activity. Oh, and they would also have to obtain certification from one of their recent sexual partners that they are indeed experiencing problems with erectile dysfunction. And they would be required to see a sex therapist before getting a prescription.

The bill states:

"The physician shall ensure that the sessions include information on nonpharmaceutical treatments for erectile dysfunction, including sexual counseling and resources for patients to pursue celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice."

Turner says society has been programmed to accept the idea that legislators can regulate a woman's ability to obtain contraception or get a safe abortion. "We don't see anything wrong with it because that's the way we've been socialized," she told Shots. But now that the tables are turning and the focus is on men's reproductive health, people think it's strange, she said.

However, American University's Lawless said that bills like Turner's have almost a zero likelihood of becoming law.

Already, we are seeing some of them shot down. In January, the Virginia Senate voted against an amendment proposed by Virginia Sen. Janet Howell, a Democrat, which would have required a man to get a digital rectal exam and cardiac stress test before getting a prescription for an erectile-dysfunction drug.

Howell proposed her amendment in response to a controversial bill that would require women seeking abortions to undergo ultrasound imaging first. The bill eventually passed and was signed into law after vaginal ultrasounds were dropped from the requirements.

The ultimate goal in proposing bills related to male reproductive health is not to get them passed, Lawless said. By drawing attention to these bills, she said, Democrats are looking to motivate independent and undecided voters, especially women, to show up at the polls in November for the general election.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Teresa Tomassoni