Van Wagenen: Lipstick on a Pig: Utah’s Abortion Amendments Still Fail Women


Claire Peterson

(Graphic by Claire Peterson | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Madeline Van Wagenen, Opinion Editor


In June 2022, the United States Supreme Court overturned the original verdict of Roe v. Wade, citing that the U.S. Constitution makes no references to abortion, therefore making Roe’s original argument flawed. As a result, 13 states enacted their abortion trigger laws, including the state of Utah, whose law S.B. 174 is currently held up in the courts due to a Planned Parenthood lawsuit.

In Utah’s 2023 legislative session, two bills are making amendments to Utah’s abortion laws: S.B. 88 and H.B. 153. H.B. 153 tightens up the legal language in the trigger law, while S.B. 88 would allow doctors to provide abortions in cases of rape and incest without verifying a police report has been made.

Access to abortion is life-saving healthcare. This state can and must do better to provide proper healthcare for women, especially in cases of rape, incest and protecting women’s health.

The Trigger Law and H.B. 153

Utah’s abortion trigger law employs vague legal jargon, and Rep. Raymond Ward hopes to resolve some of those problems through H.B. 153. Many doctors who need to perform life-saving abortions to save pregnant women are scared to do so out of fear of the imprecisely worded law.

Ward has a unique perspective, as he is one of the few state lawmakers with a medical degree. However, when I asked Ward to speak to concerns I have overheard on campus, he refused to answer, citing self-preservation. I am disappointed, yet not surprised, that our lawmakers care more about their image than the people affected by their legislation.

There’s no denying that these were difficult questions to answer: “Why are men making laws for women?” “Why are non-medical experts passing laws regarding topics they have no specialty in?” “What if I get pregnant as a result of rape and cannot risk reporting it to law enforcement?”

This goes for all lawmakers, but Ward specifically: if you create legislation on a subject as important and emotional as abortion, you need to be willing to stick your neck out for it.

I gave Ward the opportunity to speak to concerned Utah students, which he denied, failing to acknowledge the interests of his constituents.

Law Enforcement and S.B. 88

While I believe S.B. 88 has the potential to save lives, we need to be doing more. When it comes to abortion, most states allow exceptions in cases of rape and incest, and Utah is no different. However, in practice, few of these exceptions are granted.

S.B. 88 prevents further trauma and victimization of women, especially considering that more than 2 out of 3 rape cases go unreported to law enforcement, mostly out of fear of retaliation or inaction.

In an interview, Sen. Kathleen Riebe explained legislators “can’t possibly understand all the reasons why people are making these decisions” in reference to why women choose to get abortions, and therefore cannot make sweeping legislation that will harm women with vague laws. But S.B. 88, which Riebe is sponsoring, is an important step in the right direction and would protect women.

But we can still do better from here.

Abortion Rights: Karrie Galloway

Karrie Galloway, CEO of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, sat down with me to chat about these two bills and the topic of abortion at large. She applauded the work both Ward and Riebe have done for protecting women, but then the conversation shifted into more somber tones.

“It hits you like a sledgehammer, that someone has been making the rules for how you handle your life based on their morals and feelings, not yours,” Galloway said. “You can have a family situation where a child needs some sort of transplant, and anyone who wants to can be tested to see if they’re a good match. But nobody is forced to give up a kidney … unless they choose,” explained Galloway. “All except in this particular situation, even if the woman hasn’t chosen to be pregnant and it has been forced by violence upon her.”

Regardless of anyone else’s moral beliefs, anyone can choose to become an organ donor, and their wishes are respected. But in this country, a dead organ donor has more rights than a woman who wants or needs an abortion.

Bodily autonomy is not applied equally in this country.

What Does Better Look Like?

Women’s health is critical. Abortion rights are necessary for a woman’s right to life, liberty and her pursuit of happiness. These three unalienable rights are offered up by the U.S. Declaration of Independence, a document conservative lawmakers supposedly hold near and dear to their hearts.

If you are concerned about abortion rights in Utah, your lawmakers need to hear from you. You can find your Utah state representative and senator here. For those who live in the Salt Lake area around the U, Jennifer Dailey-Provost is your representative, and Jen Plumb is your senator. Email them!

Regardless of the imperfections in these bills, there is compassion in them. Still, we must do better. Utah cannot afford to retreat to pre-Roe v. Wade.

Better looks like educating yourself on bodily autonomy and abortion rights. Better looks like talking to your legislators. Better looks like the right to a safe, accessible abortion.


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