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Michelle Deininger: Anti-choice Utah legislators are making themselves obsolete

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lauren Simpson with Alliance for a Better Utah presents the findings of the 2020 Reproductive Rights Poll on Monday at the Capitol. Alliance for a Better Utah, Planned Parenthood of Utah, the ACLU of Utah and Family Planning Elevated released the results of a Utah-specific poll on the issues of sex education, contraceptive access and abortion, Feb. 24, 2020.

“Roe v. Wade dried up the stream of babies!” cried a pro-life speaker at the Utah Capitol this week. She wanted more babies born for adoption.

State Sen. Dan McCay spoke next, recalling people he saw in India during his mission living “happily” in extreme poverty. That showed, he said, that women and girls need not fear the diminished economic outlook that typically accompanies being forced to give birth. Being poor might be delightful!

During Monday’s House Health and Human Services Committee meeting, members discussed McCay’s bill, SB174, which would ban all abortions (with rape and incest exceptions) if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Public comment at the meeting was intense.

A pediatrician brought up an 11-year-old patient who became pregnant after consensual sex with her boyfriend. McCay confirmed that under SB174, the girl would be required to give birth.

Rep. Ray Ward shared harrowing statistics regarding health outcomes for mothers and babies when abortion is restricted. McCay assured him everything would be fine here because of Utah’s high-quality health care. Women trying to give themselves abortions could go to nearby hospitals if they botched the job, he explained.

But, he clarified, they would then be arrested and charged with a Class 2 felony.

More clarifications followed: Those with money to travel could go out-of-state for abortions with no legal consequences. So SB174 is really more for low-income and less educated women.

I testified about friends’ abortions enabling them to finish school and lead productive lives. Some committee members walked around chatting with each other as I spoke. It was my first time speaking at the Capitol; I’d imagined senators listening politely, but apparently that’s a courtesy extended only selectively.

The committee approved McCay’s bill in a 10-3 vote. It heads to the House next. Democratic Reps. Sandra Hollins and Jennifer Dailey-Provost, and Republican Ward, voted no.

Securing women’s right to make their own reproductive health decisions may be a long game around here. But looking at Utah’s growth and demographics, not that long.

Utah voters and legislators simply don’t match anymore.

A poll commissioned by several state groups found 80% of Utahns support either relaxing or leaving in place current abortion restrictions. Those numbers increase as the state grows. Which it’s doing, to say the least.

Utah added 45,000-plus new jobs last year, the second-highest increase in the country, according to the Utah Economic Council’s 2020 report to the governor. Those jobs are largely technical, scientific and professional. College degree jobs. Of the 56,300 people new to Utah last year, half of those were adults and families from other states.

Pew Research reports 61% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. And support for abortion access rises by education levels. Among those with bachelor’s degrees, 69% support it; 79% postgraduate degree-holders support it.

Those are our new voters. Shouldn’t that resonate more with lawmakers?

Utah legislators have increasingly been getting their knuckles rapped for policy overreaches such as refusing to implement voters’ medical marijuana preferences in 2018 and attempting a tax reform bill so odious that voters swiftly repealed it through referendum.

This month the gang is having another do-over, after public outcry met their vote to deny breakfast to hungry kids (withholding food from the same babes they hold sacred inside the womb).

You think they’d take a hint and legislate in accordance with constituents’ wishes. Instead, this term looked more like a Hail Mary pass. As though legislators detected a whiff of their not-too-distant future obsolescence.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Legislature, do you or do you not want to keep your jobs?

Michelle Martin Deininger

Michelle Deininger is a former daily newspaper reporter and editor, now a freelance writer living in Park City.

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