Vickie Samuelson: Utah Legislature keeps attacking a woman’s right to choose

The 95 abortion bills introduced since 1973 do nothing to help the lives of women.

This Pat Bagley cartoon appears in The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.

When is enough enough?

Since 1973, the Utah Legislature has presented 95 abortion bills, many of them redundant, unnecessary or simply cruel. Thirty-nine passed. In 2020, however, Utah lawmakers ramped up their efforts passing seven of 11 abortion bills.

A Dan Jones poll found that over 80 percent of Utahn’s think there are enough bills to restrict abortions. Sen. Evan Vickers wondered out loud why legislators have to keep proving they are pro-life. I agree. These bills are no longer solving any problems. They are fantasizing scenarios in search of problems, while women are being demeaned, disrespected and judged. And many of these women — 60 percent according to studies — are mothers.

At stake is a woman’s dignity and “personal liberty.”

I understand that the Legislature is anxious to eviscerate Roe v. Wade, but it is still the law of the land. It was passed based on the “right to privacy” founded in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The court weighed a pregnant woman’s right to privacy against the state interests in maternal health and fetal life.

The court held that an abortion decision must be left to the pregnant woman in consultation with her doctor during the first trimester, that the state may regulate abortion in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health in the second trimester, and that during the third trimester the state may regulate or prohibit abortion, except where necessary in appropriate medical judgment for the life and health of the pregnant woman.

Abortion law takes up 44 pages of the Utah Criminal Code.There is no evidence that any of these legislative efforts — not the 72-hour waiting period, not the required “educational” video, nor any of the other myriad restrictions imposed by the state — have prevented even one abortion.

SB234 Protecting Unborn Children Amendment, which became law in 2016, is a prime example of how the Legislature upholds belief over facts. It requires a physician to administer anesthesia to a pregnant woman having an abortion at 20 weeks or later. The bill was based on the heavily disputed belief that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. There is no scientific evidence that this is the case, or what would happen to the women if this was done. And because the procedure has never been done, there is no medical body of literature.

Then there is the unnecessary and costly SB67 Disposition of Fetal Remains, which passed last year. The law enacts several provisions regarding the disposition of fetal remains, including notifying the woman that she has a right to decide how to dispose of the remains and requiring the provider to accomplish that disposition.

“This requires the remains of an unborn child through abortion or miscarriage to be treated with dignity,” the bill sponsor said. Because it must be done by cremation or burial, the family must bear the costs.

My own mother had five miscarriages and one stillbirth. My best friend had seven miscarriages before she had her wonderful son. The cost is huge for someone with a limited income, a college student in debt or a single mother trying to make ends meet.

While I do believe some restrictions are perhaps reasonable, I also believe our state government should not be reaching into our private reproductive lives. That applies to a man seeking help with erectile dysfunction or a vasectomy, couples undergoing infertility treatments or a woman seeking an abortion. These are health care decisions between us, our families and our doctors — and they are private.

While the state is within its right to make laws to restrict abortion, it is unconscionable for government to codify disrespect of women and remove their right to privacy.

Utah legislators have given priority to fetal tissue over the lives and welfare of women, their decision-making power, the impact on their lives and their families.

There are so many other ways to reduce abortion and prevent unwanted pregnancies. Certainly providing comprehensive sex education for youths is important because girls can get pregnant around 12 to 14 years old, at menarche. We may also want to educate our legislators both on the male and female anatomies. They blanche at anatomically correct terms and often dismiss testimony if it includes such terminology.

When I was in school, the Legislature removed subjects on anatomy from health classes. Now, many of our lawmakers could be my sons or daughters, and I wonder if they ever received sound, medically appropriate information.

While health care and day care should be available and affordable, Utah should also ensure that contraception is too, at any age.

There are now three new abortion bill pending in the Legislature this session. Enough is enough!

The League of Women Voters did a study on Utah Abortion Laws It can be found here.

Vickie Samuelson | Co-President, League of Women Voters Utah

Vickie Samuelson is co-president of the League of Women Voters of Utah.

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