Tribune Editorial: Better ways to reduce abortions in Utah

A one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills is displayed Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. The California Senate approved SB999 by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, that would allow California women to receive a year supply of hormonal birth control in one trip to the pharmacy, on Friday. It now goes the governor. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Some people may tell you that a couple of bills passed by the Utah Legislature will reduce the number of legal abortions performed in the state.

But they may be wrong about which bills those were.

In fact, one measure that may do the most to cut down on the number of abortions the only reasonable way a state can — by helping women to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies — wasn’t even passed this year. It was an act of the 2018 session, that year’s Senate Bill 184, which made it legal for women to get various forms of contraception from a pharmacists rather than require a prescription from a physician.

Working out the regulations and paperwork, of course, took awhile. But, Wednesday, Dr. Joseph K. Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, issued the necessary order to implement the legislation, which was carried through the process by Sen. Todd Weiler and Rep. Raymond Ward.

Pharmacists who take five hours of specialized training will be allowed to issue certain kinds of contraceptives to women over the age of 18 after getting the woman’s health history and discussing with her which method might be best for her. To keep receiving the medication or devices, patients must see a women’s health specialist at least once in two years. Paying for the contraceptives is up to the woman or her health insurance provider.

Arguably that’s still too many hoops to jump through. A process that would make contraceptives simple over-the-counter buys, with no age restrictions, might have been better. But this was apparently as far as the Legislature was willing to go, so it was a step worth taking.

The law and the rules properly recognize that the easy availability of contraceptives not only reduce the demand for abortions, they also improve the health, educational and career opportunities and financial security of the women who choose to use them. And that, in turn, benefits whole households, communities and the state overall.

And, as health department officials rightly point out, any physical hazards associated with modern forms of contraception pose less of a risk to women than does pregnancy, with its possibilities of hypertension, hemorrhage and miscarriage.

Another bill, this one passed this year and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert last week, might also do some good in reducing unwanted pregnancies, and thus reducing abortions. That was House Bill 71, sponsored by the same two legislators, which somewhat cleaned up the messy state law governing the teaching of sex education in Utah public schools to clarify that teachers may get a little closer to sex education worthy of the name by explaining — though not advocating — the uses, benefits, and risks, of various forms of contraception.

Sex ed in Utah schools is still opt-in, meaning parents have to sign off on their children even attending the class. And school districts can still opt out. Which is unfortunate. But HB71 is clearly a step in the right direction.

The two of those bills together will do a lot more to reduce the number of abortions. They will do so by being supportive of women and families rather than trying to dictate to women by entering the most personal spaces of their lives. Bills with that dictatorial approach, one that would ban abortions after 18 weeks and another that purports to tell women not to have abortions only because their fetus has been diagnosed as having Down syndrome (as if anyone will ever know what the real reason was) also passed this session.

Both are likely to be struck down in court as interfering with a woman’s constitutional right to choose. Which means if Utah politicians really want to reduce abortions in their state, they are going to have to find more ways to be helpful, and fewer ways to be overpowering.