Utah lawmaker who led abortion walkout won’t seek reelection

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, listens to comment at the first public hearing for SB102, which would make polygamy between consenting adults an infraction (punishable by a ticket but no arrest or jail time) instead of a felony, on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. At right speaking in favor of the bill is Jessica Christensen of Hope After Polygamy and at left, preparing to speak against the bill, is Tonia Tewell of Holding Out Help.

Sen. Deidre Henderson, one of two Republican women in the Utah Senate, withdrew as a candidate for reelection on Wednesday.

Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, did not describe the motivation behind her decision in a Facebook post announcing her plan to complete her second term, which ends in January. She said only that it had been an honor to serve in the Senate for the last 8 years and that she tried her best to protect freedom, increase government transparency and limit the intrusion of government into people’s lives.

“This was a difficult decision, but I’m confident in the leaders of our state and the resiliency of our community,” Henderson wrote. “In the coming days, when the ground stops shaking and the world slows down, I look forward to sharing with each of you what my future holds.”

During the most recent legislative session, Henderson successfully sponsored legislation reducing the criminal penalty for polygamy to an infraction, effectively decriminalizing the practice of plural marriage among consenting adults. She also pushed back against a bill that would have mandated ultrasounds before an abortion, amending the bill to prohibit transvaginal ultrasounds and joining the five other Democratic and Republican women of the Senate in a protest walkout during the chamber’s vote on the bill.

It was a rare demonstration — the first of its kind in memory that involved lawmakers from both parties.

Several current and former state leaders responded to Henderson’s facebook announcement by thanking the senator for her time in office.

“Thank you for serving and for being a strong advocate for women,” wrote Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray.

Henderson was among the Republicans who ran for Congress after the resignation of then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz left a vacancy in the state’s federal delegation, but she failed to make it out of the Republican state Convention, where delegates favored far-right hopeful Chris Herrod, a former state lawmaker. Former Provo Mayor John Curtis then went on to win the primary and the U.S. House seat.

Henderson’s name is regularly included in the lists of potential candidates for higher office, but when contacted by The Tribune on Wednesday she reiterated that more information on her plans would be released in the future.

After her withdrawal from the Senate’s District 7 race on Wednesday, another Spanish Fork lawmaker, Rep. Mike McKell, filed to run for Henderson’s seat. Flor de Maria Sulbaran, had previously been the only declared Republican challenger for the seat.

Sulbaran, a consultant on Latino community outreach, events and festivals, said she was happy for Henderson, and that she had originally filed to run because it is good for the state to have competitive elections, and not as a criticism of the incumbent.

“It’s giving us room for other people,” she said. “It’s good for me, and it’s good for her because she has other plans.”

McKell did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Emily Bergeson, a United Utah Party candidate, also has filed for the seat. The candidate filing period closes Thursday.