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Okay fine, let’s talk about abortion

Last week, a House committee gave the green light to H.B. 166, Rep. Lisonbee’s resurrected bill prohibiting abortion if the sole reason is because the fetus has Down syndrome.

It’s a bad bill for a number of reasons: it can’t go into effect right now because it would be unconstitutional; it’s more “resolution” than “bill” material; there is no way to actually enforce it; etc etc.

But these are problems with the bill itself, not with what the bill is trying to do: restrict abortion. It’s time we had that big-picture talk about what the role of the state is, and should be, around abortion.

Constitutional Foundation

In Roe v. Wade, SCOTUS held that the right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment includes a woman’s right to have an abortion until the point of fetal viability.

You may not agree with how the right to privacy is applied in the case of an abortion, but to deny that right does not exist at all would be a serious erosion of individual liberty under the 14th Amendment.

With the Constitution as our baseline, what policies should the state enact within those parameters?

Let the Statistics Be Your Guide

We have data to point us in the right direction. Studies have shown that restrictive abortion laws lead to unsafe abortions putting women’s lives at risk. That’s a nonstarter for me. Every abortion that happens in Utah should be a safe abortion, bar none.

Instead of trying to blanketly eliminate abortions, with no regard for the effects of that legislation, we should be focusing on reducing abortions. The most effective and safest way to reduce abortions is to eliminate the reasons someone might want to get an abortion, like an unplanned pregnancy.

If the Legislature actually wants to reduce the number of abortions performed in Utah, there are great, evidence-based steps it can take. These include:  

  1. Implementing comprehensive sex education in schools
  2. Expanding access to contraceptives, and
  3. Pro-family economic policies, including paid maternity leave, affordable healthcare, and affordable childcare.

These are the things that work. These policies reduce abortion and they do it without hurting women.

So what is the Utah Legislature doing?
Instead of implementing these steps, the Utah Legislature has actively opposed policies that would actually reduce abortion. This past week, a House committee shot down a bill clarifying that Utah health teachers can explain contraceptives. Meanwhile, 68 percent of Utah voters say they support sex education beyond abstinence-only.

The Utah Legislature is trying to play both sides, but the math doesn’t add up. Either you are against policies that reduce abortion or you are only interested in sending a message.

  • Opposing abortion AND opposing sex education is like opposing drowning AND opposing swimming lessons.

  • Opposing abortion AND opposing free/low-cost contraceptives is like opposing drowning AND opposing life preservers.

  • Opposing abortion AND opposing pro-family economic policies is like opposing drowning AND opposing swimming pool ladders that help people climb out of the pool.

Ultimately, bills targeting abortion won’t affect people who take private swimming lessons, or who can afford a life preserver, or who can hoist themselves up on the side of the pool. If you have the money and want an abortion, you can afford to miss work and travel out of the state to get one.

Based on the discussion I hear up at the Capitol, it is safe to say that on the whole, our legislators are a very privileged bunch. Laws like this one will not really affect them. But they aren’t the ones we should be worried about. Responsible legislation looks out for the least among us. Punitive abortion bills do the opposite.

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