A Utah lawmaker wants to try a different kind of anti-abortion bill — expanding access to birth control

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) In this March 4, 2019, file photo, Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, talks with a guest on the Senate floor. Kitchen is sponsoring a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage for birth control to thousands of Utah families.

Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, is trying to get enough Republican votes to advance his bill in the Legislature that would give more women Medicaid coverage for contraceptives.

In its first committee hearing, the bill was skipped over with a vote to adjourn the meeting. Five Republicans, all men, voted to end the meeting without a vote on the bill while two Democrats, both women, voted against the motion. Kitchen needs two out of the five Republicans to agree to support the bill for it to advance to the Senate floor.

“This is an opportunity for the state of Utah to be proactive on health policy for average Utah families, empowering them to have control over their lives and make better educated decisions,” said Kitchen.

SB74 would require the state to apply for a pre-approved federal Medicaid waiver to provide contraceptives to women who don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid and have household incomes below 250% of the federal poverty level, or $62,750 for a family of four. Currently, Utah’s Medicaid program only provides coverage for contraceptives to families earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level.

Kitchen said his bill is a response to a plan, still in the drafting stage, by Republican Sen. Dan McCay, of Riverton, to ban most elective abortions in the state. The measure would carry a trigger, so that it would take effect only if the U.S., Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.

Kitchen said he’s frustrated, adding that if the Legislature attempts to further restrict abortion, it has a moral obligation to expand contraceptive services.

Kitchen’s bill builds on the efforts of Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, to expand Medicaid coverage of birth control. SB74 would offer a 90/10 match (the federal government picking up 90% of the cost and the state 10%) for all reversible methods of birth control.

That means the state would provide $500,000 for the rollout of the program and $686,000 the following year.

SB74 would cover birth control pills, rings, injections and intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants through any Medicaid provider. However, the waiver would not cover abortions.

“I share the desire to eliminate the need for abortions in this community ... the best way that we can prevent abortions is to provide contraceptive services,” said Kitchen.

He estimates passage of SB74 would provide coverage to 10,000 people who need contraceptives. This could potentially prevent 2,140 unintended pregnancies, 730 abortions and 410 miscarriages, according to data Kitchen obtained from Jessica Sanders, a researcher at the University of Utah.

“Most women who have an abortion do so to end an unintended pregnancy. Expanding contraceptive access to women in Utah through SB74 will likely improve the intended pregnancy rate and reduce the abortion rate,” said Kitchen.

Sen. Luz Escamilla said it’s a great return on investment. “Family planning is critical for many — especially our young families who are building their family and want to know where they are in their time in terms of income.”

But Sen. Allen Christensen, R-No. Ogden, spoke against the bill.

“We keep giving more Medicaid benefits and more benefits and more benefits and then there’s the policy of self reliance here and own self responsibility,” said Christensen.

Kitchen said public funding of family planning services would save Utahns a lot of money.

According to the research Kitchen used to prepare the bill, families would save $12.3 million in birth-related costs from contraceptive services and $466,260 in miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy expenses. Taxpayers would also save $7 for every $1 the government spends on family planning.