Adult film star urges Utah Gov. Spencer Cox to veto porn-blocker bill

The legislation wouldn’t protect children but would infringe on free speech, she wrote in an open letter.

(Carolyn Kaster | AP) In this Feb. 17, 2016, file photo an iPhone is seen in Washington. The Utah Legislature passed a bill that would require phones in the state to come with activated pornography filters.

A porn star is calling on Gov. Spencer Cox to veto a bill that would require new cellphones and tablets sold in Utah to block explicit content by default, arguing that the proposal would infringe on free speech rights in the state.

“If you want to monitor what your kid watches on their phone, install parental controls that have existed since AOL,” adult film actress Cherie DeVille wrote to Cox in an open letter posted on the Daily Beast. “If your kid still manages to watch porn, here’s an idea: Take away their phone. Why does any child need a cellphone anyway? They certainly don’t need the state to parent them.”

The legislation, HB72, wouldn’t kick in immediately and would remain on pause until five other states pass a similar law. However, once in effect, it would mandate that new devices sold in the state must have pornography filters activated at the time of purchase and would place manufacturers at risk of civil liability if they don’t comply.

Proponents of the bill framed it as a step toward protecting youth in the state from exposure to harmful pornographic material — and as a way to help out parents who aren’t tech-savvy. Content filters already exist on phones and other devices, but activating them often takes several steps, and Rep. Susan Pulsipher argues it can be frustrating for parents to figure out how to turn them on.

“[The bill] doesn’t take the place of good parenting. It doesn’t take the place of family rules or family discussions,” the South Jordan Republican who sponsored HB72 said Saturday. “It’s just a tool to help good parents be good parents.”

However, DeVille said the legislation will do nothing to shield Utah children and is actually an attempt to prevent the socially conservative state’s adults from viewing pornography. And she questioned why the legislation singles out sexually explicit content, when violent video games and television shows can also have a damaging effect on children.

“Stop using ‘protect the children’ when your real goal is to stop adults from watching porn,” she wrote.

Pulsipher said that’s not true and that nothing would prevent adults from deactivating the content blockers and viewing pornography if they chose.

HB72 is just the latest attempt by Utah lawmakers to crack down on pornography, which they declared a “public health crisis” in a 2016 resolution that also recognized the need for education, prevention, research and policy changes to control a “pornography epidemic.” Last year, legislators approved a bill to require that all pornography in Utah come with a warning label.

Pulsipher’s bill passed this year despite reservations from some Republican lawmakers, who were worried that the proposal was unworkable and improperly places the burden on manufacturers to produce devices with automatic filtering. Even proponents of HB72 acknowledged the bill wasn’t perfect but said Utah leaders will likely have plenty of time to refine it, since it will remain dormant until other states pass similar legislation.

Cox will have until Thursday to decide whether to sign or veto the bill.

In her letter, DeVille argues that Cox could anger many of his constituents by endorsing the bill, noting that the website Pornhub reported getting 16 visits per capita from Utah residents in 2015.

The porn star also called on Cox, a Republican, to live up to his recent statements criticizing some in the GOP for engaging in culture wars rather than pursuing meaningful policy changes.

“There’s more to being a conservative than just ‘owning the libs,’” Cox said during an interview on the “Matt Lewis and the News” podcast. “I believe in a Republican Party and a conservatism that is about opportunity for everyone. We don’t do that with these fake controversies, these false choices we keep presenting people.”

DeVille said the anti-porn bill counts as one of these fake controversies and predicted that it could push the state down a “deadly slope that would send Utah residents’ civil liberties off a hill.”

“If you want Republicans to focus more on creating legislation around real issues, defend the free speech of the pornographers whose profession conservatives oppose,” she wrote. “Remind conservatives that free speech means free speech for everyone, especially those you oppose.”

Pulsipher said she hasn’t personally spoken with Cox about HB72 but expects that he will sign it.