Utah Senate rejects anti-masturbation amendment to proposed abortion ban

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, in the Senate Chamber in Salt Lake City on Thursday Dec. 12, 2019 as lawmakers hold a special session focusing on tax reform.

Members of the Utah Senate voted overwhelmingly, and along party lines, in favor of legislation that would ban elective abortions in the state in the event that Supreme Court precedent on the subject is overturned.

But while the outcome of Friday’s vote was unsurprising, the debate over SB174 took something of a turn when Salt Lake City Democratic Sen. Luz Escamilla attempted to add an amendment that would legally prohibit any male ejaculation that occurs outside of a vagina.

“My amendment, what it does is make sure that men play a part and are accountable for their actions as well,” Escamilla said.

The bill’s sponsor, Riverton Republican Sen. Dan McCay, initially responded with levity to Escamilla’s motion, saying he would have to “declare a conflict," which drew laughter from some senators.

The amendment’s language would add “masturbation; coitus interruptus; or any other method used to cause an ejaculation” to the definition of an abortion.

McCay went on to speak against the amendment, saying it could be insensitive to “our LGBTQ community.”

Sen. Dan Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said that while some may have reasons to oppose the underlying abortion ban, he didn’t find it appropriate or funny that Escamilla was using her amendment to oppose the bill.

He compared his opposition to abortion to his opposition to the death penalty, saying the sanctioned murder of human being should be allowed only in the most extreme circumstances.

“A sperm is not a human life — any more than an egg is — and we’re not talking about sperm and we’re not talking about eggs,” Thatcher said. “We’re talking about human life. We are talking about a living being and whatever other problems may exist with this legislation, at the end of the day, how can I say that I believe it is ethical or moral or correct to end a human life.”

Escamilla protested that her motion was “not a joke — it’s a serious issue” to draw the role of men, who are so often left out of the equation, into the debate over responsibility.

Senators overwhelmingly rejected Escamilla’s amendment, before voting 21-6 to approve the abortion ban, which includes exceptions for rape, incest and the life of a mother. The bill requires a final vote of the Senate before moving to the House for consideration.

Before receiving an abortion in Utah, a woman must complete a 72-hour waiting period and watch an information module that says the state prefers childbirth to abortion. Lawmakers are also considering legislation this year that would require the burial or cremation of fetal remains and force women to receive an ultrasound before an abortion.

Even though SB174 would not take effect in the state until the U.S. Supreme Court revisits the subject of abortion, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said the bill has merit because it indicates the state’s thinking on the topic.

“I think by passing this law, we give a signal to the courts that we as the state of Utah are willing to go back to where it was or where it should be, and don’t want it to go any further,” he said.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, urged his colleagues to oppose the bill. He said that if Roe v. Wade — the nation’s landmark court case on abortion — is ever overturned, McCay’s legislation would not end abortions in the state, but instead would end safe abortion.

“Roe v. Wade did one thing, it told women you don’t have to go to those back alleys,” Davis said. “You don’t have to go and find a coat hanger and maybe a young lady, a friend of yours, who knows how to use it on you.”

McCay, who said he sponsored the legislation because he “was prodded gently by [his] loving wife,” said that government’s primary function is to protect life, and that a person’s rights end where they cause pain to another person.

“I can’t sleep at night for the definition we currently have for a baby,” he said.