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Women's Choice Under Siege 

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In its most recent attack on personal rights, the U.S. Supreme Court struck out at a small but significant ruling to nip away at abortion access. This on the 48th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and Justice Amy Coney Barrett's much-anticipated entrance as a defender of fetal rights.

While it was disappointing to pro-choice advocates, it was hardly unexpected. And certainly, there will be more to come. The strategy seems to be to take these decisions back to the states where a hodgepodge of laws will confuse, if not endanger, women seeking an abortion.

On the heels of the high court's lukewarm decision, the Utah Legislature is beginning its annual 45-day session—virtually, of course, because they care so dearly for the lives of their constituents. If that sounds sarcastic, it's because it is.

The League of Women Voters of Utah has just released an in-depth study of abortion laws in Utah. While I participated in the study, you will find none of the anger and frustration of this article therein because the League is a nonpartisan and unbiased arbiter of facts. I am not.

What you will see in the study is a picture of legislators with an almost spiritual dependence on personal testimony from the pro-life cabal while ignoring statements of women like Meredith Reed, a League member who testified about her heart-breaking decision to abort.

"Since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the Utah Legislature has considered 95 bills relating to abortion and has passed 43," the study says. "In the 2020 legislative session alone, Utah lawmakers considered 11 bills to add restrictions to or prohibit abortion with certain exceptions."

Many of those laws are contradictory and defy the bounds of health care. While doctors testify about wild inaccuracies of understanding, legislators tune out the facts for emotion. They were deeply touched by the erroneous testimony of Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, who said there are "significant health risks to woman if she chooses abortion," and who "characterized the fetus as a tiny little baby with arms and legs ... and a tiny beating heart," the study notes.

The goal of these anti-reproductive rights activists to vest personhood on zygotes, embryos and fetuses, somehow separating them from their "host" mother. Such laws would criminalize abortion and certain types of birth control that prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg. "Opponents of abortion rights have even used proposed measures to prevent doctors from treating complicated and potentially dangerous pregnancies," the study says.

Leading the legislative charge against abortion are Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo; and Reps. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield; Cheryl K. Acton, R-West Jordan; and Christiansen. But behind them are conservative groups Utah Eagle Forum, Pro-life Utah and Abortion Free Utah, all armed with their talking points and testimonials. Planned Parenthood of Utah valiantly presents counterpoint and has been successful in multiple lawsuits—the ones that depend on facts.

Meanwhile in other states, women are being forced to comply with burdensome laws because lawmakers assume they are too frail, stupid or immoral to make decisions for themselves.

In the most recent rulingof FDA v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the court was mostly silent but ruled it is A-OK to force women to pick up abortion-inducing medication in-person from their providers rather than by retail or mail-order pharmacies. While the law has been around for 20 years, the pandemic has not, and apparently a fast-spreading virus is no excuse to protect pregnant women from exposure.

The League study mentions The Turnaway Study by Diana Greene Foster, Ph.D. If you think pro-life testimony is heart-breaking, you should read this book. For instance, there is the case of Ohio Rep. Jim Buchy who co-sponsored a bill to ban abortion at the first detection of cardiac activity. At that time, many women are still unaware they are pregnant and have no symptoms.

In an interview, he was asked why a woman would seek an abortion. It was a question he had never considered because, as a man, he didn't need to. Indeed, finances are a major reason and something that governments are not prepared to deal with. Health concerns, emotional maturity, partner-related issues are others.

One Utah law, Senate Bill 67, requires notifying the woman that she has a right to decide how to dispose of fetal remains and requires the provider to provide for that disposition. The law hinges on the antiquated female diagnosis of "hysteria," perhaps the first mental disorder attributed to women. In other words, women don't have the brains to make important decisions during emotionally difficult times.

This law was not in code when I had to "abort" a dead fetus at 32 weeks. And yet the providers offered options and support and understood that I could make that decision for myself. After multiple miscarriages and that fetal demise, I am confident that no one else can or should try to shield me from the pain.

Some state laws actually attempt to impose more pain on pregnant women by watching ultrasounds and listening for heartbeats. Others just build as many barriers as possible to what is a difficult journey.

As we approach the 2021 session of the Utah Legislature, citizens will witness the decennial exercise called redistricting, and because this state is so highly conservative, it is likely that we will see more abortion bills coming.

"The U.S. League of Women Voters notes that gerrymandered districts helped anti-abortion legislators to pass 479 state laws 26 between 2011 and 2019.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, states have passed more than 1,000 abortion restrictions," the League study says. "A woman's right to health care and privacy continues to be at risk in Utah and the nation." CW

Send comments to editor@cityweekly.net.

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About The Author

Katharine Biele

Katharine Biele

Bio:
A City Weekly contributor since 1992, Biele is the informed voice behind our Hits & Misses and Citizen Revolt columns. When not writing, you can catch her working to empower voters and defend democracy alongside the League of Women Voters.

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