As of last Friday, a Utah woman who chooses not to continue her pregnancy can no longer access abortion care in this state, except in the case of reported rape, incest, fetal deformity or extreme health risk to her. And a doctor who performs an abortion beyond those exceptions is guilty of a second-degree felony.
The 50-year constitutional right to reproductive freedom was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court, returning the decision to the states. A half-day later, the Utah Legislature implemented its prohibition without pause.
I never imagined I would see such a devastating rollback of women’s reproductive rights in my lifetime. I agree with the three dissenting Supreme Court justices who wrote “with sorrow” that “one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens.”
Although there is a wide range of opinions on this matter based on our personal understanding of science and our religious and cultural beliefs, I believe there is one fundamental question regardless of where we land on this complex issue. Should state legislators and governors make this critical call for a woman and her family? I strongly believe they should not.
It’s extremely troubling to me that a decision so deeply personal and so fundamentally impactful to a woman’s life, as of Friday, is now decided by state legislators and governors, which remain dominated by men. I yield that our state’s officials should have authority on our state’s tax policies, budget decisions and many other matters, but certainly not a decision that so deeply impacts the entirety of a woman’s life.
The deepest victims of this flawed decision are women who need access to care, but it harms us all. Our nation’s political divide between red and blue states will be even deeper. Half our nation’s states, including the neighboring “blue” states of Colorado and Nevada, will continue to provide abortion services, and the other half, “red” states, will ban services (or already have). This checkerboard breakdown compromises the relative political stability around this issue that has existed in the past and exasperates the already unprecedented and harmful divide between states.
A Utah woman who needs abortion care will now have three tragic options: remain pregnant against her will, gather the resources to travel out of state for abortion services or attempt to “self-manage” an abortion outside the medical system.
Forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy compromises that woman’s mental health and, in many cases, her physical health as well. The United States already ranks last among developed nations in maternal mortality, and abortion bans will only increase pregnancy-related deaths.
We haven’t seen it play out in 50 years, but it’s crystal clear that a woman being forced to continue a pregnancy she does not want will certainly impact her well-being. And privacy has been compromised; even victims of rape or incest, to meet the state’s exemptions, will have to report the abuse through the legal system, a further violation of their privacy and a potentially re-traumatizing process.
Utah legislative leaders and right to life advocates held a press conference last week celebrating the Supreme Court decision. They made casual references to perhaps providing additional resources to support family planning and the needs of the additional low-income women who will carry their pregnancies to term.
Yet, year in and year out, Utah Republicans have not fully funded family planning, adoption support is limited and thousands of Utah families currently go without basic needs. It’s a false promise to even attempt to imply that the needs of a woman desiring to terminate but forced to carry to term will be met, let alone that of her family.
Justice Bret Kavanaugh, who supported the majority decision, stated that he believed it is unconstitutional to prevent a woman from traveling from one state to another for an abortion. Additionally, the court reaffirmed that aiding and supporting a woman to travel is a protected matter of free speech. While that is some good news for Utah women, it’s clear that low-income, working women and those without support will be the most harmed.
For those as frustrated and stunned as I am, talk to your community about abortion, show up on election day, and join Planned Parenthood of Utah’s ambassador network. If you or someone you know needs care, go to www.abortionfinder.org.
And elections matter. Make sure your voice is heard at the ballot box.
Jenny Wilson is mayor of Salt Lake County.