Tribune editorial: ‘It’s on us,’ Utah women know, ‘to demand protection and the restoration of our rights’

Utah’s Legislature has a long way to go to prove it is really pro-life and not just anti-abortion.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Senate President Stuart Adams, answers questions about Utah's trigger law, SB174, that will prohibit elective abortion in Utah, during a news conference at the State Capitol, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, on Friday, June 24, 2022.

It’s on women now.

We cannot make a single mistake, Utah women know. And our bodies can’t either, even though we have no control over complications that may present. We have all the responsibility, and the men have none.

The law in Utah has weighed the worth of an embryo, even one too small to be called a fetus, against the worth of a woman, and found the woman — half the population of the state — wanting. In a state that prides itself on small government and individual freedom.

Friday morning, in one deplorable sweep, the Supreme Court of the United States threw out 50 years of progress toward guaranteeing the rights of women and other marginalized people by not only overturning Roe vs. Wade, which made abortion access a nationally recognized right, but also bringing into question court rulings that guarded individual rights to contraception, private sexual behavior and marriage equality.

A 2020 Utah law banning abortion in most cases was triggered into effect. Until a state judge issued an order Monday blocking enforcement for at least two weeks.

Friday evening, Utah lawmakers gathered to celebrate their newfound power. Things got off to a really horrible start.

State Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, sponsor of the “trigger law” that effectively banned most abortions in the state once Roe was vacated, became a target of global online derision when she said that she trusted women now denied the right to abortion to, “control when they allow a man to ejaculate inside of them and to control that intake of semen.”

Lisonbee later walked those remarks back a bit, stressing that she did not mean to ignore women who have been raped. But the sentiment expressed still betrays an astoundingly callous view of women having all the responsibility to avoid pregnancy and no right to reflect on their individual situations and choose to terminate without the approval of the Utah Legislature.

Senate President Stuart Adams immediately took a stand against any reforms to the suddenly effective Utah law. His unwise position ignores the fact that SB174 was not really taken seriously by advocates or opponents as it was drafted and passed.

It was just another one of our Legislature’s pointless message bills, a way for lawmakers to look good to the far right that dominates the Republican Party’s caucuses and conventions without having to worry that it would really affect the lives of any women.

But that was before three Supreme Court candidates nominated by President Donald Trump proceeded to perjure themselves by telling the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, under oath, that Roe was settled law.

Now that Utah has the power to regulate abortion with a freedom even our own leaders didn’t expect just two years ago, it is going to take some real soul-searching on the part of Utah’s Republican super-majority, and unending pressure from Utah’s good people, to show that the end of Roe will not leave us with a state where women are second-class citizens, their needs ignored and their rights denied.

In truth, full citizenship is now beyond the reach of Utah women. Unless they move to Colorado, Nevada California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, New Zealand or one of many other states and nations whose leaders, even as Utah’s political class celebrated the end of women’s autonomy, made statements of support for the idea of women as self-determining human beings.

That situation could be mitigated somewhat if Utah leaders would demonstrate that they are, indeed, pro-life and not merely anti-abortion.

Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson welcomed Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that returned the issue to the states and promised to take the state’s new responsibility seriously.

“As pro-life advocates,” they tweeted, “this administration is equally committed to supporting women and families in Utah. We all need to do more to support mothers, pregnant women, and children facing poverty and trauma.”

That would be great. It would also be a total reversal of Utah Republican policy over the last decade.

Utah had to be dragged, kicking and cursing and through a voter referendum, to accept the Medicaid expansion created by the Affordable Care Act. Health care in Utah is still out of reach of many, children in minority households especially. The pay gap between women and men here is among the worst in the nation. Housing and child care are increasingly unaffordable. Paid leave for new mothers — or fathers — nowhere to be had. Educational attainment for women falls far short of our own goals. Real sex education in public schools is basically prohibited.

True respect for life in Utah would mean ending all of those shortcomings and creating a culture where abortion is rare, not because it is forbidden, but because it is unwanted.

The now-effective Utah law at least recognizes the need for medical intervention when an ectopic pregnancy or dead fetus needs to be removed, specifically exempting both from the definition of a prohibited abortion.

Lawmakers should go further by removing the requirement that rape victims report the assault to police before being eligible for an abortion. As long as engaging the criminal justice system amounts, for so many women, to a second assault, that’s a hurdle no victim should have to face.

Lisonbee did decline to follow the lead of anti-abortion crusaders in some other states who seek to prohibit women from traveling to other states where abortion is allowed. So at least we will be spared the sight of Utah Highway Patrol officers setting up checkpoints at the Nevada and Colorado borders, asking any woman who passes through when her last period was.

Lawmakers must also make it clear that we do not want to be a state where women who have already suffered the pain of miscarriage or stillbirth are required to explain themselves to the pregnancy police.

Utah’s abortion ban is now real and not imaginary, but the work to protect the lives of women is not over.

The Legislature must see, Utah women now know, that we will be showing up at the Capitol in numbers much larger than the thousands who demonstrated there Friday. In Republican Party caucuses and conventions. At the voting booth. To work together for the support we deserve and a return of the rights we have lost.