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Nina Turner, Ohio State Senator, Introduces Viagra Bill To Counter Anti-Contraception Legislation

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As a member of a heavily male- and GOP-dominated state Senate since 2008, Ohio legislator Nina Turner says she has cringed watching her colleagues pass bill after bill to regulate women's reproductive health. Now, the Democrat has become the latest in a series of female state legislators to give her male colleagues a taste of their own medicine by introducing a bill that limits men's ability to get a Viagra prescription without meeting certain government conditions.

"We should show the same attention and love to men's reproductive health as we do to women's," Turner told HuffPost. "And my bill does that."

Specifically, Turner's bill would require men to receive psychological counseling to verify that they have a medical reason for taking erectile dysfunction medications, such as Viagra, before they can legally obtain a prescription for it. It would also require doctors to inform men, in writing, about the potential risks of drugs like Viagra.

The bill borrows language directly from Ohio's controversial "heartbeat bill," which bans abortions after the fetal heartbeat can be detected -- often before a woman even knows she's pregnant. But Turner said her bill is not just an answer to the heartbeat bill; she has been outraged by number of bills and amendments over the past couple of years, including one recently proposed to ban physician assistants from placing or removing intrauterine devices (known as IUDs), a common form of birth control, based on the Republican sponsor's moral opposition to that method of contraception.

"We need to fight fire with fire," Turner said.

Turner is inspired by female legislators across the country who have been countering anti-abortion and anti-contraception legislation with men's health-focused measures that come with conditions, she said. Oklahoma Sen. Constance Johnson, also a Democrat, proposed a "spilled semen" amendment to her state's "feel personhood" bill that would declare it an act against unborn children for men to waste sperm. Illinois state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, another Democrat, introduced an amendment to a state mandatory ultrasound bill that would require men to watch a graphic video about Viagra's side effects before being able to receive a prescription for it. A bill filed by Virginia state Sen. Janet Howell (D), would require men to obtain a rectal exam before obtaining such a prescription.

In Wilmington, Del., City Councilwoman Loretta Walsh authored a resolution that declares "each 'egg person' and each 'sperm person' ... equal in the eyes of the government."

Representatives of the Family Research Council, an anti-abortion organization, are not amused by the trend. "It sounds like they're mocking pro-life bills," said Jeanne Monahan, director of the council's Center for Human Dignity. "I will say, having met quite a few women who profoundly regret their abortions, this is not a laughing matter."

The Viagra bills are not comparable to the anti-abortion bills the Family Research Council are protesting, such as the mandatory ultrasound bill, because Viagra isn't a major surgery, Monahan said.

"Abortion is not like having a wart removed," she said. "More often than not, it's an invasive surgery with real consequences, and I would think that most women want more rather than less information before having one."

Terri O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said that while she would not endorse any of the gender equity amendments being introduced, she thinks they're a "brilliant" strategy to combat anti-abortion legislation.

"Obviously in terms of policy, we would not support any of these amendments; health care is health care and should be left to the individual man and his doctor or woman and hers," she told HuffPost. "That said, I think they've injected in a wonderfully humorous way some common sense. The whole idea of using humor that snaps people out of this one mind-set and gets them to look at the problem from a commonsense point of view; it reminds me of the humor used to defang Joseph McCarthy way back in the 1950s."

If her bill sends a message to male legislators and injects some common sense into lawmaking, then Turner will be pleased with that outcome--but, for the record, she's not joking at all, she said.

"I'm just as serious as a heart attack," Turner said. "I'm serious about the potential side effects of Viagra. I'm as serious as my right-wing male colleagues who introduced bills to legislate women's health. It's ironic that when it come to women's health people think that's a serious matter, but when it comes to a man, they think we're joking. I don't think any of my sister legislators are joking."

None of the states have passed these men's health measures so far, and Turner's bill only has one cosponsor. But she does plan to reach out to female lawmakers in other states who have introduced bills like this and "make a decision as a group to unite in a more concerted effort to push this agenda."

"We need to fight for ourselves and for the future generations of young women who shouldn't have to ask the government for a permission slip to make their own health decisions," Turner said.

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