Skye Fredericks: Take pride in Utah’s female senators
In this Jan. 27, 2020, photo, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Sen. Karen Mayne speaks on the Senate floor, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. All six women in the Utah Senate walked out in protest and refused to vote Tuesday, March 10, 2020, on a bill mandating a woman be shown an ultrasound before receiving an abortion. The bill passed despite their absence. Mayne said she was sad that women had to tell their own life stories as they spoke against the bill, and yet their male colleagues didn't appear to believe the proposal was too invasive. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
As I sat beside Utah state Sen. Kathleen Riebe, and in front of Sen. Karen Mayne, I heard whispered words coming from behind me, “We’re walking.”
Being a young woman in the midst of pursuing a college education, it was an honor to be Riebe’s guest on the Senate floor during one of the last periods of floor time in the Utah legislative calendar this spring. When the roll call vote began and the senators’ names were cast up onto the glaring screens, each of our female senators rose from their seats, sending a hushed silence up to the balcony.
Through the early afternoon, I had been anxiously awaiting what would be the most contentious bill of the day: House Bill 364
. This is a bill that, if in effect, would require a woman choosing an elective abortion to undergo an ultrasound
72 hours before the procedure and be present in a doctor’s office while images of the fetus are displayed and a heartbeat is made audible. This would be in addition to the informed consent module the state of Utah already requires for these same women.
Despite the invasive nature of the bill, Sen. Deidre Henderson proposed an amendment that would prohibit the use of transvaginal ultrasounds. While presenting this amendment, a picture of a transvaginal wand was displayed on the TV screens in the Senate chamber.
One by one, each of the female senators rose and spoke to this amendment, sharing deeply personal stories and shedding light on the trauma associated with transvaginal ultrasounds.
Mayne, in particular, gave an incredibly powerful address to the Senate. She expressed her disappointment and frustration. Women senators were rising and sharing personal stories of heartbreak and trauma to have their concerns taken seriously. Mayne’s words spoke to that idea we keep coming back to, of the need to believe women, and they hung heavy in the chamber long after she assumed the seat at her desk.
Women from both sides of the political aisle rose and left the Senate floor.
The strength I witnessed in the Senate chamber that evening gives me chills down my spine even the following day as I write this. The solidarity among these women, solely based on their shared experience, empowered me even amid a bill attacking women’s health and contradicting medical best practice.
I came to the Capitol to learn more about the Senate, but I learned that the power women in government have supersedes the legislation that tries to control them. Of the 29 Utah senators, I watched our six female senators act in dignity and grace in the face of this piece of legislation.
As they stood tall and left the floor, I remained the only woman left among the senators. As the roll call proceeded, I was empowered by every period of silencing following a female senator’s name. I sat and watched as, one-by-one, enough male names turned green on the screen to dictate women’s autonomy over their bodies.
The bill passed the Senate, but I went to my car smiling. The poise and decorum that I saw in each of the female senators that night gave me hope, hope for the future of government and hope for my fellow young women pursuing political activism.
The overwhelming pride I felt that day as I watched each of them rise from their desks, despite their overall beliefs on abortion, is something that will always stay with me.
Skye Fredericks is a student living in Salt Lake City.