In the nearly 50 years that the Supreme Court of the United States has protected a woman’s right to determine her own reproductive future without undue government interference, there have been many positive, supportive steps Utah could have taken to reduce the number of abortions.
Now it appears the court is about to sweep aside its own ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade and others that followed, leaving the decisions to each state. There are many positive, supportive steps the state can take to minimize the number of women who will be devastated by an unwanted or unviable pregnancy.
The things our Legislature could and should have done over the last half century and the things it can and should do now are, of course, exactly the same.
Comprehensive sex education
Easy access to contraception
Equal educational and career opportunities for women
A social and cultural safety net that helps women either avoid getting pregnant in the first place or that supports them as they become mothers.
Even, gasp, directed conversations with boys and young men about their obligations to prevent unwanted pregnancies. A $.50 condom is less invasive and less expensive than oral contraception or an IUD. Let’s have men equally share the burden women have shouldered for centuries.
Far too little of that was done before, in Utah and other Republican-led states, because so much of the political energy was expended trying to find ways to get around the Supreme Court’s mandate.
Because there has been too much cultural squeamishness among our elected officials to admit the true nature of humans as sexual beings who deserve support and understanding, not ignorance and punishment.
Because Utah’s political class is dominated by the view that a civilization that truly supports women and children is too expensive and not the proper role of government, even though it has been firmly established that money spent preventing unplanned pregnancies and supporting children and families repays society many times over in avoided costs associated with health care, special education, criminal justice, homelessness and other painful pathologies.
Cultures that face facts about sexuality, tell their children the truth and provide real support for families have far lower rates of unwanted pregnancies and abortions than the United States has ever had, even when those nations’ legal restrictions on abortion are much less stringent.
Our Legislature has exhibited occasional glimmers of getting it. In 2018, lawmakers passed, without a single negative vote, SB184. That was a measure that made it much easier for adult women to obtain their monthly allotments of contraceptive pills through a pharmacy rather than repeated visits to a physician.
The next year saw Utah finally join the Medicaid expansion envisioned by the federal Affordable Care Act and take steps that made contraception and other types of health care more easily available to more women. At the time it was estimated that making birth control available to an additional 8,000 Utah women would prevent 2,000 unintended pregnancies and 680 abortions.
Yet this is the same Utah Legislature that, in 2019, passed a law banning most abortions after 18 weeks of gestation and, in 2020, approved a so-called trigger law that would, if Roe fell, ban the procedure except in cases of rape, incest, to protect the life of the mother or in cases of severe fetal abnormality.
Claims that such legislation is “pro-life” or that it expresses the state’s concern for children are painfully hollow until and unless Utah takes an approach that is supportive, rather than punitive and combative.
The first step would be for the Legislature and the Utah State Board of Education to get over their fears of human sexuality and mandate full, age-appropriate sex education in all Utah schools. The state’s current “abstinence-based” approach is far too thin and lacking in detail, especially with its refusal to equip young people with an understanding of how to recognize and repulse unwanted attention.
Far too many of our young people are getting their ideas about sex from internet pornography. The state has declared porn a public health hazard, but done absolutely nothing to make our children a better offer.
Utah also needs to get busy giving its young people real reasons to avoid premature sexual activity, unwanted pregnancies and abortions by increasing efforts to keep young women in school, provide career opportunities and access to daycare, early childhood education and paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers.
The only abortions Utah’s newly enforceable law would prevent will be those that would otherwise be sought by women of limited means and opportunity. Affluent women, as always, will leave the state when they want an abortion. While those just getting by — often struggling to raise a son or daughter they already have — will be pressed to either bear a child they cannot afford or seek an illegal, often unsafe, termination than endangers the woman, her future and her family.
There is absolutely nothing pro-family about that.
State actions that truly support women, children and families are the way to improve a society where abortion is legal, and they are the way to improve a society where abortion is illegal. If Utah lawmakers want to do anything other than gloat, they should go about the job of building a society that really cares about mothers and children.