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Tulsa clinic opposes bill criminalizing 'intentional, reckless' spread of STIs

This photomicrograph from 1975 reveals McCoy cell monolayers with Chlamydia trachomatis inclusion bodies; Magnified 200X.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Wikimedia Commons
This photomicrograph from 1975 reveals McCoy cell monolayers with Chlamydia trachomatis inclusion bodies; Magnified 200X.

An Oklahoma House bill seeking to improve sexually transmitted infection rates by charging Oklahomans for intentionally and recklessly spreading them is heading to the Senate Floor after passing committee Thursday. A Tulsa STI testing clinic worries the bill will accomplish the exact opposite.

House Bill 3098 by Toni Hasenbeck (R-Elgin) and Sen. Jessica Garvin (R-Duncan) would add chlamydia, hepatitis B, genital herpes, HPV and trichomoniasis to a list of diseases already criminalized by Oklahoma law. People with the “intent to or recklessly be responsible for” spreading these infections could face two to five years in prison.

The development and communications director for the Tulsa STI testing clinic H.O.P.E Testing Jeff Burdge said the term “reckless” isn’t defined, which could leave the door open for lawsuits.

“Many Oklahomans aren't even aware that they have an STI,” Burdge said. “And so, you're criminalizing a group of people that may not even know what they have and what is going on within the state and Legislature.”

Oklahoma ranked 20th in reported cases of chlamydia, according to the CDC’s 2022 STI surveillance report. HPV also impacts about 85% of people in their lifetime. Only women can be tested for HPV, which Burdge said was concerning considering in a state with the fourth highest female incarceration rate.

“I don't think we need to be putting more women into prison just because they have a virus that is well throughout the community that anyone could have,” Burdge said.

Burdge said he worries this bill will encourage Oklahomans not to get tested and disproportionately impact people lacking access to health services and treatment.

“I completely understand if someone knowingly knows they're positive and is going around spreading that. The vast majority of the public is not in that circumstance,” Burdge said. “I think that this just is really targeting groups of people, specifically low-income, people of color, that may not have access.”

He said the Legislature should vote no and focus on bolstering education and treatment options.

Jillian Taylor has been StateImpact Oklahoma's health reporter since August 2023.