Record editorial: Utah lawmakers should back efforts to increase access to contraceptives
When it comes to female reproductive health and other issues regarding women’s bodies, the track record of the mostly male Utah Legislature is laughable. Or, it would be if it weren’t so damaging.
However, with two bills up for consideration that would expand access to contraceptives for low-income women, state lawmakers have an opportunity to take a major step in the right direction.
One of the bills, H.B. 254, would restore access to more than $2 million in federal funding for contraceptives and non-abortion family planning services for low-income or uninsured women by making Utah compliant with federal rules requiring that teens have access to contraceptives without parental permission. The bill would reverse regressive state law that bans health care providers from giving minors contraceptives without a parent’s approval by allowing clinics to make exceptions when delaying access until permission can be obtained or when notifying a parent at all would be harmful to the minor.
The other, S.B. 74, seeks to expand access to contraceptives for women who don’t qualify for Medicaid and who make up to 250% of the federal poverty level ($31,900 for an individual and $65,500 for a family of four). According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Derek Kitchen, estimates the legislation would provide 10,000 people with access to contraceptives like condoms, birth control pills and intrauterine devices.
The proposals deserve full-throated support from lawmakers. As both research and common sense indicate, wide access to contraceptives is an important pillar of public health. It reduces the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, prevents unwanted pregnancies — and, yes, significantly lowers the abortion rate.
The latter point is particularly important in light of another piece of legislation affecting female reproductive health that may come before the Legislature this session. According to media reports, Rep. Dan McCay plans to introduce a bill that would ban elective abortions in Utah should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, a terrifying prospect that seems increasingly plausible.
If and when McCay’s plan takes shape, Summit County residents must call on their lawmakers to vigorously oppose it. We should encourage them, instead, to support the idea of reducing abortions — and promoting sexual health — through broad access to contraceptives.
Both H.B. 254 and S.B. 74 would accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, they seem likely to face a tough road in the Statehouse, where legislators too often continue to back outmoded policy solutions when it comes to such matters.
But perhaps lawmakers, with backing from vocal constituents, can begin this year to reverse that reputation and better serve the women they represent.
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