‘I’m absolutely terrified of getting pregnant now’: What 7 Utahns say about state’s abortion trigger law

The law is currently on hold and a ban on abortion after 18 weeks of pregnancy is in place.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A plan by Alex Maher and her partner to start a family were put on hold after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Maher, pictured on Friday, July 15, 2022, said the couple is now making plans to move out of Utah this fall to a state that protects access to abortion.

Utah’s abortion trigger law is being challenged in court but could go back into effect one day, and that makes some Utahns wary about getting pregnant in the future.

After Roe v. Wade was overturned in late June, The Salt Lake Tribune asked residents how the trigger law — which was briefly in effect — will affect their lives, and received dozens of responses through an online form.

People said they worry what options they would have if something were to go wrong with a pregnancy, and about how their doctor would respond if providing them an abortion could lead to a felony charge.

“I will do whatever I can to save patients and make the best health care decisions with them and for them,” one medical student said. “This could easily now mean breaking the law and I could go to prison for saving someone’s life.”

Below are some of the responses, edited for clarity and length. The Tribune verified the writers’ identities and agreed to not include the names of those who feared repercussions or wanted to protect medical privacy.

The trigger law — which could ban most abortions in the state — is currently on hold, as a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality makes its way through the courts. In the meantime, a ban on abortion after 18 weeks of pregnancy is in place in Utah.

Terrified of getting pregnant

Alex Maher, 33, South Salt Lake

I am finally at a point in my life where I want to have kids, but now I am absolutely terrified of getting pregnant.

I grew up extremely impoverished. This affected my health and well-being as a child, and I have spent a lot of time reconciling with that. Now, I have a good career, and I’m solidly middle class. Last year, my partner and I started having a serious conversation about having children. I had my IUD removed.

When the Supreme Court draft opinion was leaked in May, I became nervous. Then, the justices officially overturned Roe v. Wade last month, and that was really devastating. Afterward, my partner asked me, “So, we’re moving right?” I was like, “Yeah.” We plan to move this fall to a state that has protections for abortion, in case I ever need it.

I’m worried about the hoops that people will have to jump through under the trigger law’s exceptions, such as having to have two maternal-fetal medicine doctors sign off for an abortion. I’m now in my 30s, and my family history could cause me to have a high-risk pregnancy. I want the safety and security of knowing that my doctors can advocate for what’s best for me, as an individual, and for my family.

I have been very intentional about building a family. When I got pregnant at 17, I had an abortion. I knew that if I didn’t, I would end up in the same sort of poverty cycle that I grew up in, and I didn’t want that. Now, I’m ready to have a baby. And I recognize that I am in a place of privilege, which many people I grew up with are not.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alex Maher said she finally feels ready to have a baby with her partner. But now, they plan to wait to start a family until moving out of Utah.

Thinking about all the what ifs

Name withheld, 24, Cache County

Two days after Roe v. Wade was overturned, I realized that my IUD had shifted and might not have been working properly.

I already couldn’t focus, thinking about how my rights, and the rights of other people, had changed with the ruling. But I was terrified when I remembered that my long-term partner and I had had unprotected sex only a handful of days earlier.

I started thinking about all the what ifs: What if I’m pregnant? What if I have to get an abortion? What are my next steps? How will I afford that?

I went to the doctor and was relieved to learn that I wasn’t pregnant. My IUD was not where it was supposed to be, but it was still in an effective spot.

It felt unfair that I would have potentially had to travel somewhere outside of Utah to get an abortion. Luckily, I was in a position where I could rearrange my work schedule if I needed to do that. But there are so many people out there who can’t.

I am finishing up my master’s degree and need to be focused. During this experience, I felt sad and scared, but mostly angry. I planned ahead to prevent pregnancy scares like this, but now, a freak accident may impact not only my mental health, but possibly the quality and timing of my work.

I am so afraid to send this in, but I know that my voice matters because there are so many stories out there like mine.

What does the trigger law say?

Utah’s trigger law would ban most abortions in the state, except for a few limited circumstances:

• If it “is necessary to avert the death” or if there is “a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” of the pregnant woman.

• “Two physicians who practice maternal fetal medicine concur ... that the fetus has a defect that is uniformly diagnosable and uniformly lethal,” or “has a severe brain abnormality that is uniformly diagnosable.” According to the law, this does not include Down syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy or any condition “that does not cause an individual to live in a mentally vegetative state.”

• The pregnancy was caused by a rape or incest. Before performing an abortion, the physician will have to verify the rape or incest has been reported to law enforcement or the proper authorities.

Anyone who performs an abortion in violation of Utah’s trigger law is guilty of a second-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. An abortion clinic or physician that are involved could also potentially lose their licenses, the law states.

Questions for my doctor

Kayla Lengyel, 31, Cottonwood Heights

I am 21 weeks pregnant with my second child. I think the exception in the trigger law allowing an abortion to protect the life and health of the mother is vague, and I worry it may cause a doctor to hesitate in treating me in an emergency situation. If a doctor’s livelihood is on the line, would they question if my situation is dangerous enough to qualify for an abortion?

I haven’t intended to have an abortion; I want this baby. But I do want to know that my doctor will give me the appropriate medical care to save my life, should that be necessary. I wonder if I need to have a political or religious conversation with my obstetrician to see where they fall on this issue.

After the Supreme Court’s draft opinion was leaked in May, I contacted my primary care doctor to ask about what conditions would qualify under Utah’s trigger law. He kind of brushed me off as, “Don’t overreact.” Still, I think about if I have the resources that I would need to fly to California or drive to Colorado in an emergency situation. But what kind of emergency situations exist where I have two days to book a flight? There probably aren’t many. Because an emergency, by definition, is urgent.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kayla Lengyel, shown in her 3-year-old daughter's room on Friday, July 15, 2022, is expecting her second daughter in November. Lengyel worries whether the penalties in Utah's abortion trigger law will make doctors hesitate before performing a necessary abortion.

Following an oath

Holly Reynolds, 24, Salt Lake City

I’m a second year medical student at the University of Utah. The reversal of Roe v. Wade and Utah’s trigger law has changed how I will be able to learn and practice medicine. By American medical standards, abortion care is included in OB-GYN education. Now, some people may have to go out of state to do their OB-GYN rotations, where there is wider abortion access.

Personally, I am never going to choose to follow an unjust law made by non-medical professionals when a patient’s life is in danger. I would rather face the legal consequences than break my Hippocratic oath and unnecessarily let a patient experience harm or die. And I think any medical provider who has any core ethics or morals would do the same.

You’re going to have patients who are bleeding out in our emergency room, who are having a dangerous miscarriage or a molar pregnancy — which is not viable. The idea that women will have to be on the brink of death before we do something is ridiculous.

It’s also absolutely ridiculous that medical providers face second-degree felonies if they violate the trigger law. We’re already experiencing such an extreme shortage of providers in the United States who have dealt with the overwhelming stress of the pandemic.

Many female providers will have to cope with not only how this affects their patients, but themselves. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, so my menstrual cycles are not regular. If someone looked at my period tracking data app, as some suggested may be possible, I could be accused 20 times in the last four years of having sought an abortion.

(Holly Reynolds) Holly Reynolds, who is a medical student in Utah, would rather face the legal consequences of violating the state abortion trigger law than break her Hippocratic oath and unnecessarily let a patient experience harm or die.

Preventing pregnancy

Name withheld, 29, Salt Lake City

I am pregnant with my first child and have made it to 30 weeks with no issues. I feel comfortable that I will reach full term, and my baby seems perfectly healthy. But I am anxious about what birth control to use while breastfeeding to keep from getting pregnant again right away. And if I chose not to breastfeed, there’s an infant formula shortage going on. On top of that, day care is super expensive, especially if I have to pay for two babies.

Utah’s trigger law makes me nervous for the future. I want a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. But if something were to go wrong, not only are my dreams crushed, but now I’d be put in a situation where there are very few options. That’s really hard to think about because it means any time you get pregnant again or want another child, that’s a whole bunch of risk to take on. I’m also terrified about how miscarriages are going to be handled and whether they are going to be investigated.

I keep remembering the fact that most people who get an abortion already have children. Having an IUD and doing everything to simply not get pregnant seems easier than growing our family and actually going through a pregnancy with my health and our family in mind.

We’re excited for the birth of our first child and are relieved to have received good news from doctors so far. But it’s really scary to imagine having a second child and think how if things go wrong, things are going to go really wrong, really fast.

Period tracking app woes

Name withheld, 28, Millcreek

My fiance and I have had quite a few conversations about if we got pregnant sooner than we were ready, or if we learned our child was going to have severe problems in life, that we would seriously consider getting an abortion. When Roe v. Wade was overturned, those plans went out the window.

I had been using a period tracking app. But when I read about how the data from those apps could possibly be used against you, it made my heart sink. I spent well over a year finding a birth control that doesn’t give me migraines. I realized hormonal birth controls weren’t a good option for me, but I was nervous to try a nonhormonal copper IUD because some people I know didn’t have good experiences using it. Now, I feel like I have to go start the whole process over again with my doctor to find the most effective option for me.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, I listened to a news conference in late June where Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said it was important for people to realize that people on both sides of the abortion issue are not “evil,” and we should try to understand each other.

I see where the governor is coming from. And personally, I can understand why people are pro-life. But I will never understand why decisions about abortion are left up to the government, and why the person who is pregnant can’t decide for themselves.

Excitement replaced by terror

Name withheld

My husband and I are trying to have our first baby. I was so excited about the possibility of being pregnant. But all of that excitement was replaced with terror when Roe was overturned.

The night of the Supreme Court’s ruling, I had a nightmare that I was left untreated in a medical emergency and died, even though doctors had the skills and equipment to help me.

It makes me so sad that we’ve prepared ourselves financially and emotionally for this next step in life for several years, and never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d be worried about receiving life-saving prenatal care.

As someone who has worked in the mental health field, I’m also sad and fearful for all the women who want abortions for different reasons and wouldn’t be able to do so in the state of Utah.