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Time for Utah to be pro-family in action, not just words

This commentary originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Recently, a group of Utah lawmakers introduced a “pro-family” bill package featuring expanded contraceptive access, comprehensive sex education, infertility coverage, childcare options and family leave policies.

As a parent, I was impressed. If we are serious about wanting to be a pro-family state in action and not just in name, this is how we do it. We need bold policies like these that put our money where it matters and give Utah families the meaningful support they deserve.

After resigning myself to the belief that perhaps the Utah Legislature won’t pass anything that would actually be pro-family in more than just words, it’s exciting that this group of lawmakers has the vision to boldly address systemic issues affecting Utah families.

I am too familiar with the visceral stress of preparing to welcome a newborn while also trying to balance the need for childcare, which is astronomically expensive and difficult to find. I am tired of seeing couples struggling with the emotional pain of infertility having to rely on crowdfunding campaigns to finance their dream of having a family. I am tired of hearing about women struggling alone with postpartum depression after they’ve given birth. And I am tired of seeing politicians vote to restrict abortion access while simultaneously voting against the policies that reduce unintended pregnancies in the first place.

It seems that Utah is now faced with a choice about what it means to be pro-family:

On one side are the far-right lawmakers and advocates trying to pass abortion bans and undermine sex education.

On the other, we see lawmakers stepping up with a progressive vision for policies that would support Utah families.

Interestingly, the lawmakers who vote for abortion bans are typically the same lawmakers who are the quickest to dismiss the policies that go farther upstream and address the systemic reasons why women have abortions. Conservative members of the Legislature are eager to give millions of public dollars to state lawyers to challenge women’s constitutional rights, but they penny-pinch when it comes to paying for policies that offer Utah families more financial stability or access to reproductive healthcare.

It is often said that you can tell a state’s priorities by how it spends its money. The same can also be said for how legislators spend their time —especially given Utah’s rapid-fire 45-day session. There is a clear contrast between the politicians who would devote their time and energy shaming a woman who has made the private decision to have an abortion, and those who would rather focus on helping Utahns support their families.

We already know the facts about abortion: A majority of Utahns support Roe v. Wade. One in four women will have an abortion in her lifetime. And most women who receive abortions are already mothers.

Abortion bans are a cruel way to regulate the unique and deeply personal circumstances that Utahns face, and those who advocate for them are a small, loud minority with an extreme position that’s out of touch with how most Utahns feel.

Instead of bills that limit a woman’s agency or punish her doctor, I am ready for bills that are focused on making changes that will truly benefit Utah families. Expanding contraceptive access and improving our sexual education means fewer people will have to deal with unintended pregnancies. An infertility insurance mandate will make it easier for couples to realize their dream of having a child. Bold childcare and paid leave policies will make it financially easier for parents to raise their children.

It’s high time for Utah to step up and show what we mean when we call ourselves a pro-family state. Policies like these are a fantastic start, and if they pass, they will have positive and real-world impacts on families, women, and children.

This commentary originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Katie Matheson is the communications director for Alliance for a Better Utah.

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