PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A bill introduced in Rhode Island last week would block online pornography unless viewers confirm that they are at least 18 years of age and pay a $20 fee.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Frank Ciccone, D-Providence, and Sen. Hanna Gallo, D-Cranston, March 1. It has been referred to the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee.

The legislation would require internet providers to add virtual restrictions to “sexual content and patently offensive material.” The block could be deactivated by verifying that the user is at least 18 years old and paying a onetime $20 fee.  

The money raised from the deactivation fees would be given quarterly to the state’s Council on Human Trafficking.

All internet providers would be required to follow the filtering regulations, or could face a $500 civil lawsuit for each reported piece of unblocked sexual content.

Additionally, internet providers would be required to permanently block “revenge porn,” child pornography and websites that facilitate human trafficking.

The bill comes at a time when several states have declared pornography to be a public-health crisis, and the effect of pornography — especially on young people — is increasingly questioned.  

In a New York Times column last month, Catholic author Ross Douthat sharply rejected the idea that porn cannot be regulated.

“The belief that it should not be restricted is a mistake; the belief that it cannot be censored is a superstition,” he said. “Porn is also just a product — something made and distributed and sold, and therefore subject to regulation and restriction if we so desire.”

Douthat warned that teens are increasingly receiving sex education via hard-core online pornography. While there are now movements trying to counter this phenomenon by teaching young people “that hard-core pornography is not an appropriate guide to how the sexes should relate,” more action is needed, he said.

There was a time, Douthat recalled, when feminists and religious conservatives pushed for similar legislation restricting pornography. Now, he said, the culture doubts the virtual web can be regulated.

“That we cannot imagine such censorship is part of our larger inability to imagine any escape from the online world’s immersive power, even as we harbor growing doubts about its influence upon our psyches.”

While pornography may never be eradicated from every corner of the web, he said, there is a benefit to fighting the power that sexual content has on people’s psyches.

“Making hard-core porn something to be quested after in dark corners would dramatically reduce its pedagogical role, its cultural normalcy, its power over libidos everywhere.”