Utah lawmakers have several opportunities to prove they are really pro-family, Editorial Board writes

Health care coverage and tax breaks can keep home and hearth together.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Legislators applaud after Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Mathew Durrant gave his speech to the legislature, on opening day of the 2023 session, on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.

Most of Utah’s governing class would like to be known as pro-life and pro-family.

This year, they have several opportunities to prove it. And the rest of us have an opportunity to find out what the truth is.

We know the overwhelming majority of the Legislature, the governor, the attorney general, etc., etc., are against abortion. They have passed and signed and defended laws to that effect and are even contemplating rewriting the rules of the judiciary to make sure their values supersede everyone else’s, the courts and constitutional right be damned.

But, to repeat a cliché, is Utah really pro-life? Or just pro-birth?

If our state is really pro-life and pro-family, our elected representatives should approve measures that support not just the birth of children, but their survival, and the health and life of each of their mothers.

Right now, Utah’s Medicaid program — which paid for roughly 22% of all births in Utah as recently as 2020 — provides health care coverage to new mothers for 60 days after a baby is born. That’s not enough.

Bills before the Utah Senate (SB133) and House (HB84) would extend that coverage period to a full year. It’s a step that Gov. Spencer Cox called for in his budget proposal, where he put the cost to taxpayers at a mere $8.7 million, and in his State of the State address, where he called for efforts to support, “both the born and the unborn.”

Another measure, HB85, would extend the income limit for pregnant women to be covered by Medicaid from the current 138% of the federal poverty level up to 200%.

This matters because the rate of maternal deaths in Utah, and in the United States generally, is the disgrace of the civilized world.

In the U.S., for every 100,000 live births, 17 mothers die in childbirth or within 42 days of the end of the pregnancy. That’s much worse than nations such as Turkey and Chile, and more than triple the rate suffered in the United Kingdom, Austria and Sweden.

Compared to other states, Utah doesn’t look so bad, though that bar is pretty low. We have the 14th best maternal mortality rate in the nation, with 16.5 deaths per 100,000 live births. That’s a lot better than Louisiana (58 maternal deaths per 100,000 births) and a lot worse than California (four deaths per 100,000 births).

To families that have suffered such a loss, of course, it is not just a statistic. It’s everything. But, while we’re talking statistics, here’s another devastating one: By the figuring of the Utah Department of Health, an astounding 92% of our state’s maternal deaths were preventable. Meaning that if proper physical and mental health care had been available to those women, chances are good they would have survived.

All those children would still have a mother. All those fathers would still have a partner.

It is difficult to see how anything could be more pro-life than preventing such tragedies.

Other legislative proposals in this category include HB248, which would provide improved mental health services to adults at an estimated cost of $5.2 million, and a $15 million appropriation to expand home visiting services, a proven method of support for new mothers they can receive in familiar and supportive surroundings.

That’s on top of bills seeking to improve child care and reduce domestic violence.

All of these measures, and some we probably haven’t heard of, constitute some all-too-seldom common ground for Utah’s conservatives and progressives to occupy together. Whether one believes that abortion is a basic human right or an affront to human dignity, these other ideas all offer a chance for a better life — or life, period — to many.

That same political divide should not stand in the way of a proposal from state Rep. Karianne Lisonbee to offer a tax deduction to women who are pregnant but have not yet given birth.

Lisonbee is among the Legislature’s most vocal opponents of abortion rights, and so her idea is understandably seen by some as a sneaky way to get the law to recognize a human fetus as a legal person.

Not necessarily.

Tax law in America has long offered extra credits and deductions for people who have a recognized need for extra help. On your federal 1040, just for example, there are boxes to check if a taxpayer is over 65 years old and/or blind, enlarging the size of a household’s standard income tax deduction. Not because the elderly and the blind are multiple people, but because they have an extra need.

Our state’s coffers are overflowing even as many of our families are in great need. Targeted services, medical coverage and tax breaks can give those at the margins a greater chance of keeping home and hearth together.

And that’s about as pro-family as you can get.

Contact your own members of the Utah Legislature and tell them how you feel.