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Bill to require fathers to pay 50% of pregnancy costs advances through Utah House committee

The bill’s sponsor says he’s moving it forward as a ‘pro-life’ measure to increase responsibility for men who bring children into the world.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, wears a mask as members of the House of Representatives are separated by plexiglass during the start of the 2021 legislative session at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Jan. 19, 2021. Brammer is sponsoring a bill that would require a man to bear 50% of the medical costs for a pregnancy when he was the father.

A biological father could be responsible to pay half of the out-of-pocket pregnancy costs for the woman carrying their unborn child under a new bill that passed a House committee on Wednesday.

HB113, sponsored by Rep. Brady Brammer, would apply to a pregnant mother’s health insurance premiums and all medical costs related to the pregnancy from conception to birth, as part of an effort to increase “the responsibility for men in the bringing of life into the world.”

“Oftentimes there’s this battle between pro-life and pro-choice where some of the pro-life positions really turn into a perception that it’s just anti-abortion,” Brammer, R-Highland, told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “I kind of got sick of those things and I thought what could we do that’s really a pro-life thing? … and so that’s where this bill came from.”

The bill wouldn’t require a father to pay for costs associated with an abortion received without his consent, unless the mother’s life was in danger or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

The proposal also stipulates that a father would not be on the hook for any pregnancy-related costs if paternity was in question — until he’s established as the father. Afterward, he could be required by a judge to pay his share of expenses as verified through receipts. That means that in most cases, the payment is unlikely to be collected in real time and would likely come after birth, Brammer said.

Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, said he was supportive of the proposal but worried it could be “pretty daunting” for some women to go through the court system in order to collect payment.

“My heart goes out to these women who find themselves in this situation, who don’t have that support and help and have the expenses and maybe don’t have the ability to cover it and the thoughts of actually having to sue someone to collect it are daunting,” he said. “However, having said that, I think this is a really important step in the right direction.”

While Brammer said his bill wouldn’t solve the challenges women may face in the legal system, he noted that there are pro bono legal clinics, shelters and nonprofit groups that could help them through that process.

The bill received an 8-1 vote on Wednesday with Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, as the lone dissenter.

King said he thinks there needs to be a “greater level of cultural expectation and accountability and personal responsibility for males who are quick to spread their seed and not think they have to be responsible for the consequences.”

But he worried that the bill could tie women financially to abusive partners and said he wanted to learn more about that issue before voting to advance it.

The legislation “establishes not just the right of an unmarried mother to get 50% of the charges — it establishes the duty on the biological father to pay them,” King said. “And I worry that an unscrupulous and abusive male may say, ‘Hey, I have this duty. You can’t escape me. You may not want to collect it but I need to be tied to you in a way that you don’t want because I have to discharge my duty.’”

Brammer said he doesn’t think it’s a “bad thing” for men to have a responsibility to pay half of the medical costs but said his bill wasn’t meant to allow them to use that duty to exert control over a mother. And he added that he doesn’t think a father would have standing through the court system to make such a claim.

The bill now moves to the full House for further consideration.

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