Recent weeks have seen much note and celebration of the fact that, 150 years ago this Valentine’s Day, a young Utah woman was the first female in the United States to cast a vote under an equal suffrage law.
Recent days have left us with the question of why they bothered.
Much time and destructive energy was expended over the just-ended session of the Utah Legislature on measures that seek to devalue women and reject the notion that they are equal before the law. It was enough that all the the banners, bus ads and events marking the day that Seraph Young cast her historic ballot seem to have been ignored at best, openly mocked at worst.
The 2020 Legislature passed two bills based entirely on the notion that women aren’t fit to rule themselves, much less take part in the governing of a state or nation. A third seemed poised for approval but, due in part to an open revolt by the few women who serve in the Utah Senate, died in the waning hours of the session.
One of the bills that won the necessary votes in the Utah House and Senate was Senate Bill 174, which would basically ban abortion in Utah except in cases of rape, incest, danger to the life of the mother and severe fetal malformation.
It would only take effect if the Supreme Court of the United States reverses its decades-old Roe vs. Wade decision, the one that held that the choice of whether or not to give birth is so basic to a woman’s life that it must not be unduly burdened. Which, given the kinds of appointments the current president has made to the high court, must be considered a possibility.
Another successful bill based on the assumption that women cannot run their own lives was Senate Bill 67, which decrees that the remains of an abortion or miscarriage must be buried or cremated. The stated purpose of the bill’s sponsors was to promote the scientifically unsound idea that human embryos are persons under the law.
The Legislature narrowly avoided going three-for-three on anti-women legislation when, in the final minutes of the constitutionally limited session, House Bill 364 did not make it to the top of the calendar for a final vote. That was the bill that would have forced a woman who had opted to exercise what is still a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy to undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound procedure and mandated the health care provider to at least try to make the woman look at the images and hear the sounds.
That was too much for even the Republican women of the Utah Senate. They, along with their Democratic counterparts, walked off the Senate floor Tuesday rather than so much as participate in a vote on the measure.
Because there are only six women in the 29-member Senate, that demonstration of solidarity and principle was not enough to stop the legislation in that body. But because changes in the bill required a second vote in the House, there is reason to hope that the action of the women senators had a chance to sink in before the final votes were cast.
Even Gov. Gary Herbert had expressed support for the six senators, raising hope that, even it that bill had passed the House, he might veto it.
He should veto the other two anti-women bills as well.
And women all over the state of Utah, if they want to avoid more harmful legislation of the sort that moved through the Legislature this year, should make this 150th anniversary of voting rights more than a celebration.
They should take it as a call to duty. And vote.