End of the 2018 Utah Legislative Session
At the beginning of every year, your Planned Parenthood of Utah Public Affairs team braces ourselves for attacks on reproductive freedom that may be lurking in the murky waters of that year’s 45-day Utah Legislative Session. We watch for and follow bills based on three main policy issues: Affordable Healthcare, Quality Sex Education, and Access to Safe and Legal Abortion for All Women.
Going into 2018’s session, we thought it would be a fairly quiet January, February, and March. We knew that Rep. Ray Ward would introduce his great, Medicaid-expanding H.B. 12 and we can always count on Rep. Angela Romero to sponsor some good legislation around preventing sexual violence, but no whisperings of any threats were heard. Then, on the first day of the session, we were introduced to Rep. Karianne Lisonbee’s H.B. 205 Down Syndrome Nondiscrimination Abortion Act.
H.B. 205 included an unconstitutional abortion ban that even the bill’s sponsors and supporters confirmed was impossible to enforce and likely to cost the state millions in legal litigation. Proponents said they didn’t care about these glaring issues, saying their main objective was for Utah to “send a message” using this bad legislation.
Planned Parenthood and our Ambassadors responded by requesting that our lawmakers not sign off on the abortion ban and not use taxpayer dollars to fund a legal fight, but instead use citizens’ money to send another message–one of acceptance for people with Down Syndrome and their families. Through emails, phone calls, letters to the editor, op-eds, and hearing testimonies, you all made it clear to our House Reps and State Senators that Lisonbee’s bill was a direct attack on access to safe and legal abortion and you suggested that to show just how much Utahns love our neighbors, family members, and friends with Down Syndrome, the state should increase education around and funding for care for individuals with disabilities.
In the last few days of the session, we sat in anticipation to see what would happen to H.B. 205 on the Senate floor. Would the bill pass as written? Would the abortion ban be stricken? Would a substitution that would (somehow) make the bill even worse be passed instead? Finally, somewhat anti-climatically, it was revealed that time would run out before the bill could be heard on the senate floor. H.B. 205 died and the women of Utah breathed a collective sigh of relief as access to essential healthcare was upheld.
A big win regarding affordable healthcare came with the passing and funding of Rep. Ward’s aforementioned H.B. 12 Family Planning Waiver Amendments. This bill instructed the state to apply for a Medicaid waiver to provide affordable family planning services and information to low-income women in the insurance coverage gap. The bill is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Rep. Justin Fawson’s H.B. 286 started out as a good bill about adding consent lessons to Utah’s sex education curriculum, but ultimately ended up skewed far to the right under the influence of The Eagle Forum and other extremist groups. Read a parent and sex therapist’s take on the bill’s “Just Say No” approach here.
Overall, this legislative session you helped hold reproductive freedom in Utah fairly steady. People can still seek safe and legal abortion in our state, low-income Utah families will soon have greater access to affordable family planning services, and while some are still working to restrict quality sex education, the #MeToo movement and other current events are helping to shed light on the need for consent education for kids.
Then, pat yourself on the back, take a deep breath, and get ready for what’s next: the 2018 election cycle!