Common STDs could be criminalized in Oklahoma

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Known as House Bill 3098, its sponsors, Republican Oklahoma Sen. Jessica Garvin and Republican state House Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, argue the law is meant to stop the spread of STIs.
HPV is hugely common in the United States with 13 million infected each year, with many of the infected being teenagers.
The state legislature’s online bill tracker shows that it was voted out of the Oklahoma House and then reported to the Oklahoma Senate on April 4.
NPR’s affiliate KOSU reported Wednesday that a 2022 STI Surveillance Report ranked Oklahoma as having the 20th highest rate of chlamydia in all states.
Opponents to House Bill 3098 like Valerie Howard, a fellow of the American College of Osteopathic Internists and a medical director for H.O.P.E.
Testing in Oklahoma, say the legislation criminalizing diseases, especially those that do not necessarily involve sexual contact, will not deter their spread but could have the opposite intended effect.
“HB 3098 will not decrease the spread of STIs.
If healthier Oklahomans is the goal, the Legislature must address the spread of STIs through prevention strategies — education and testing — not criminalization,” Howard wrote last month for TulsaWorld.

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A bill destined for a Senate vote has easily passed the Oklahoma House, 78-14, and could potentially convict thousands of people for “recklessly” disseminating sexually transmitted infections or other diseases.

House Bill 3098 was sponsored by Republican Sen. Jessica Garvin alongside state representative for the Republican party. The goal of the law, according to Toni Hasenbeck, is to prevent the spread of STIs.

At present, the state has already made it illegal to intentionally spread specific STIs or STDs, but the Garvin-Hasenbeck bill would include a host of new illnesses in this category, such as trichomoniasis, hepatitis, bacterial vaginosis, herpes, chlamydia, and the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

Since 1997, the state has prohibited the deliberate spread of smallpox, syphilis, and gonorrhea. Violating these bans could result in a five-year prison sentence.

Opponents counter that the latest bill’s vague language makes it impossible to stop the rapid spread of disease.

The definition of “reckless” and the criteria for determining it are not specified in the legislation. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classify conditions like bacterial vaginosis as “vaginal conditions” rather than just sexually transmitted diseases.

Thirteen million Americans contract HPV annually, with a large proportion of those cases occurring in the adolescent age group. In addition, it is a specific problem in Oklahoma, where the Department of Health published a notice on Facebook in March estimating that 85% of citizens would contract the infection at some point in their lives.

The Oklahoma Department of Health reports that HPV is responsible for almost 36,500 cancer cases in Oklahoman men and women each year. These cases include cancers of the cervix, throat, anus, penis, and vagina or vulva.

The legislation would go into effect in November if it is approved by the state Senate. 1.

According to the online bill tracker maintained by the state legislature, it was reported to the Oklahoma Senate on April 4 after being voted out of the Oklahoma House. Though the precise date of the floor vote is unknown, its passage has a good chance of passing because it has already received joint sponsorship from both political houses. Remarks were requested on Thursday, but neither Garvin nor Hasenbeck responded right away.

Oklahoma has the 20th-highest chlamydia rate among all states, according to a 2022 STI Surveillance Report, which was released on Wednesday by NPR affiliate KOSU.

The bill’s omission of a definition for the term “reckless,” according to Jeff Burdge, a spokesman for the Tulsa STI Testing Center, could expose vulnerable populations to severe legal ramifications. Furthermore, a disproportionate burden is caused by the fact that HPV can only be tested for in women.

“I don’t think we should be locking up more women just because they have a virus that is widely spread in the community and could affect anyone,” Burdge stated.

The American College of Osteopathic Internists fellow Valerie Howard, a medical director for H.R. Associates, is among the opponents of House Bill 3098. Oh. P. A. E. According to testing in Oklahoma, laws that criminalize diseases—particularly those that don’t always involve sexual contact—won’t stop them from spreading and might even have the opposite effect of what was intended.

“HB 3098 won’t stop the STI epidemic from spreading. Fear will arise, discouraging the necessary testing. Howard wrote last month for TulsaWorld, “If the Legislature’s goal is to address the spread of STIs through prevention strategies — education and testing — rather than criminalization. If healthier Oklahomans are the goal.”.

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