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Michelle Deininger: Hear the stories of women affected by reproductive freedom laws

Utah Reproductive Policy Coalition works to help women and girls

(Jose Sanchez | AP photo) A demonstrator shouts slogans during a rally in support of abortion rights, Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in Los Angeles.

Last year’s session of the Utah Legislature staked out new territory in the regulation of reproductive health laws here, to the deep concern of some.

The passage of SB 174, which takes automatic effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned, bans abortion from the moment a pregnancy test is positive; HB 364, which nearly passed and may well come up again this year, requires ultrasounds be performed before a woman receives an abortion even if she does not want it and her doctor doesn’t believe it is medically indicated.

After the legislative session ended, a group of Utahns met to discuss how to increase evidence-based approaches to policymaking. Our group included elected officials, professionals from fields including medicine, law and education, as well as stay-at-home parents and advocates for issues affecting the lives of women, children and families.

In discussing this topic, it emerged that Utah policymakers hear frequently from lobbyists who are passionate about their position but who don’t consider the role of science and public health data in reproductive health policy.

But legislators aren’t hearing much from women and families with personal experiences that were made easier or more difficult depending on the reproductive health policies in effect when they needed them.

It also had been historically challenging to bring to policymakers’ attention the plethora of medical and public health evidence regarding economic and family outcomes that result from various reproductive health policies. One example: according to Centers for Disease Control statistics, abortion rates decline more during Democratic presidential administrations, likely due to increased funding of contraception and family planning services for lower-income women and families.

To address these disconnects, we formed the Utah Reproductive Policy Coalition last summer. Given our diverse political affiliations, we are a nonpartisan organization. Our members do, however, share the belief that while the lives of unborn children have value and must be taken into account in policymaking, girls’ and women’s right to privacy and liberty must be the pre-eminent right during early stages of pregnancy.

Additionally we believe extreme governmental limits on abortion in early pregnancy result in economic and personal harm; therefore, best policy must balance fetal right to life with girls’ and women’s right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Our objective is to ensure that accurate scientific and public health information and the voices of those with relevant individual experiences are heard and considered by policymakers.

Toward that goal, we gathered a group of women personally affected by abortion or contraception policies who were willing to share their stories, and we asked individual lawmakers to meet with small groups of women to hear their experiences.

These storyteller meetings are devoid of protests, advocacy or “asks” beyond asking legislators to listen. There are merely stories told, and listened to.

The meetings have been moving, educational, gratifying. Legislators have expressed appreciation and let us know that they’ve learned from our stories. They’ve asked questions. At times they’ve been emotional, which is understandable given the intense, private nature of this subject.

Our hope is that in these non-confrontational settings, an exchange of information about women’s lived experiences contributes to policymaking that fosters more opportunities, and better health outcomes, for people and families.

For anyone whose life has been affected by being able to (or not being able to) access contraception or abortion, telling your story can help shape policy. And for any interested groups, some URPC storytellers are willing to come speak in group settings, in the interest of collectively increasing understanding of these issues and their profound impact on Utahns’ lives.

Please visit www.utahrpc.org to learn more or to participate.

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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