Opinion: A new voter’s take on female autonomy in Utah and America

You too are affected by recent and upcoming legislation.

I am a 17-year-old girl in Utah, and I am scared for my future. While I have no intention of starting a family anytime soon, recent regressions in reproductive rights could not be more relevant to me.

Growing up in a family of women — a mother, two older sisters, six female cousins and four aunts — I’ve developed a deep appreciation for female voices. During health class last year, I was shocked after a male classmate asked why he should care about female reproductive rights. I realized that I shouldn’t stand up for gender equality because I’m a woman. I should stand up because it’s the right thing to do. So, if you care about a woman in your life, no matter your gender or age, you too are affected by recent and upcoming legislation regarding female autonomy.

2022′s Dobbs v. Jackson, the Supreme Court case that overturned Roe v. Wade and therefore allowed individual states to ban abortion, has intensified gender inequality in America. Utah responded with an abortion ban after 18 weeks, a margin quite lenient in comparison to many of its fellow Republican states. And though I might say us Utahns are luckier than, for instance, our neighbors in Idaho, with its Defense of Life Act that criminalizes all abortion, none of this is fair. In my eyes, it is a fundamental liberty to make decisions about one’s own body, regardless of gender.

Even if you don’t share my perspective on reproductive choice, there is no denying the significant decrease in access to obstetric and gynecological (OB-GYN) services due to Dobbs. According to a national survey, since the Dobbs decision, 61% of OB-GYNs in states with abortion bans are worried about their legal safety when consulting patients about reproductive health options. From a survey of more than 2,000 licensed and trainee physicians across America, 76% would not even apply for jobs in such states and applications for OB-GYN positions have dropped 10% overall since Dobbs. In her survey, Dr. Lauren Miller from the Idaho Coalition for Safe Reproductive Health Care found that, of the 117 doctors working in maternal care she surveyed, 48 will move out-of-state and another 27 are considering relocation. This means that, in states with strict abortion bans, Dobbs has not only increased risks for pregnant women, but also for any woman requiring gender-specific medical care.

In Utah, Gov. Spencer Cox’s statement after the Dobbs ruling was filled with contradictory messages, commending the Supreme Court’s decision while claiming that he supports “mothers, pregnant women and children facing poverty and trauma.” Cox fails to recognize the inconsistencies in opposing abortion and “supporting” women. The terrifying truth is that being denied the right to an abortion is at the root of this “poverty and trauma.”

In addition, Cox signed House Bill 467 in March 2023 that will come into effect this year removing the rape and incest exemption from Utah’s 18-week ban and preventing clinics from providing abortions. Because about 1% of Utah abortions occur in hospitals, restricting abortions solely to state-funded hospitals effectively limits abortion access in Utah entirely.

What I struggle to understand most is what I believe to be hypocrisy from many far-right politicians. They promote the absolute rights of gun owners in the face of mass shootings and stand for the rights of citizens who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccination or wear a mask. But they fail to stand by women and their access to critical, life-saving measures and reproductive rights.

So, my body, my choice, but only if it’s a needle jab or a mask? If you’re a woman making a personal medical decision that should be between you and your physician, you’re out of luck. Soon enough, women will see themselves losing agency in workplaces, becoming censored and disenfranchised. Take Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” for example, a dystopian novel exploring the effects of a global fertility crisis, in which a futuristic American government seizes all fertile women and children to be used as nothing more than “two-legged wombs.”

There is no denying the growing reality in Atwood’s warnings, with women and girls in many states being forced to bear children after rape, or facing serious medical complications due to a pregnancy but being refused access to an abortion. This past fall in Ohio, Brittany Watts was accused of abusing a corpse after miscarrying her fetus into a toilet. Just like in The Handmaid’s Tale, where women are sent to their death after three miscarriages, will women routinely face punishment for involuntary miscarriages?

So, my point is to encourage you to vote. Last week, I received a postcard reminding me to register. The 2024 election is my first, and young voters like myself have never been more needed. I urge everyone to register and prevent our country from falling further down the rabbit hole. Our futures are at stake.

Nadia Scharfstein

Nadia Scharfstein is a senior at Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City.

Editor’s note: Abortion remains legal in Utah up to 18 weeks, with some exceptions after that limit.

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