AUSTIN — Texas is poised to become the next state to adopt an age verification bill that would require adult entertainment websites to verify users from the Lone Star state through a government ID, credit card, or other means. However, there is a huge catch to this new bill.
In addition to new age verification regulations, the bill would require adult websites to publish debunked health warnings on the supposed harms related to consuming pornographic material. House Bill (HB) 1181, proposed by conservative Republicans and voted for near-unanimously in a GOP-controlled state legislature, would order sites like Pornhub to issue disclaimers from the state’s health agency.
In a tweet responding to the legislature’s passage of the bill, the Free Speech Coalition said that HB 1181 is “a blatantly unconstitutional law and violation of the First Amendment rights of creators, consumers, and platforms.”
That same thread on Twitter included another post from the coalition calling these so-called health disclaimers “pseudoscientific.”
Texas joins Louisiana, Utah, Virginia, Mississippi Arkansas, Montana in passing a blatantly unconstitutional law and violation of the First Amendment rights of creators, consumers and platforms.https://t.co/kDymGEzb97
— Free Speech Coalition (@FSCArmy) May 30, 2023
In the enrolled and amended version of HB 1181, the required warnings touch upon how pornography allegedly leads to biological addiction, causes mental health issues, and could lead to prostitution, claims which are disputed by subject area experts as lacking supporting evidence.
One disclaimer calls porn use “potentially biologically addictive, is proven to harm human brain development, desensitized brain reward circuits, increases conditioned responses, and weakens brain function.” Another disclaimer characterizes “exposure” to adult content as being “associated with low self-esteem and body image, eating disorders, impaired brain development, and other emotional and mental illnesses.” A third disclaimer says that “pornography increases the demand for prostitution, child exploitation, and child pornography.”
The bill also requires porn sites to post, in 14-point font or larger, the toll-free helpline for the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — the federal government’s public health agency responsible for mental and behavioral health.
All of this follows the assumption that pornography is a public health crisis in Texas. There is no scientific or medical evidence that porn is either addictive, contributes to public health crises, or exacerbates attempts to counter sex trafficking and child exploitation.
Besides this language, HB 1181 is essentially a beefed-up clone of the age verification legislation that entered into force on Jan. 1 of this year in Louisiana. Other states have introduced similar legislation as well. Utah’s age verification measure resulted in Pornhub geo-blocking the whole state and the Free Speech Coalition filing a lawsuit in federal district court to rule that specific bill, Senate Bill 287, unconstitutional.
Age verification laws have also been signed into law by governors in Utah, Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Montana. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, an outspoken supporter of far-right movements and anti-LGBTQ groups, is expected to sign the bill in the coming weeks. These laws represent a far-reaching attempt to censor otherwise legal forms of free expression. In the Twitter responses to the Free Speech Coalition’s post on the matter, users voiced concern about potential crackdowns on adult retailers.