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Abortion Ban Moves Forward In Utah Legislature

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The Utah Senate Monday passed a bill that would prohibit abortion except in specific cases, after intense debate and an initial vote on Friday. 

“I am a mother of four beautiful, amazing children," said Meredith Reed, a Jeremy Ranch resident and chair of the Summit County Democratic Party. "I love being a mother, and when my husband and I were newlyweds, we had just moved to Utah and found out we were expecting our first child, and at the very first ultrasound we attended [we] discovered that there was a fetal abnormality.”

Reed had intended to tell her story at a committee hearing for Senate Bill 174, legislation that bans abortion, but she wasn’t chosen to testify. Instead, she wrote about her abortion in an editorial for The Salt Lake Tribune. 

“Ultimately, when we found out that there just really was not ever the possibility of a positive outcome, we decided that we needed to terminate the pregnanc, that that was the most loving and humane thing that we could do," Reed said. "This was an incredibly difficult and personal decision that I made with my family and my health care provider.”

Sen. Dan McCay is sponsoring SB 174, which prohibits abortion except in cases of rape, incest, if the life of the pregnant person is threatened or if the fetus isn’t viable. The bill penalizes doctors who perform abortions with a second-degree felony but doesn’t penalize the pregnant person. The law would be triggered if Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court abortion ruling, is overturned.

Abortion comes up annually for discussion at the Utah Legislature. Another bill this year would require doctors to offer an ultrasound to their patients prior to an abortion. McCay, a Republican from Riverton, says there are more social services available to help parents now than when Roe was decided.

“I’m hopeful now, that, almost 50 years later, we're asking ourselves as a society are we in a position where do we want to continue this practice, or are we better off trying to make sure that young mothers have the support they need, that they can raise the children that they are blessed with,” McCay said.

McCay’s wife, Tawnee, is a councilmember on the Riverton City Council. She presented SB 174 with her husband at the Senate Health and Human Services committee last week. Last year, she sponsored a resolution in Riverton opposing abortion, naming the city a “sanctuary city for the unborn.” For Dan McCay, the issue comes down to one person’s choice resulting in a life-ending decision for the other party.

"When I look at how we have treated abortion since 1973, and actually before that as a country, I'm uncomfortable," McCay said. "In my soul searching, where I have come with help from many, many others, is that right to end another's life is something the government has to be involved in."

Reed intends to testify at the next committee hearing for the bill. She says she wants to remove the stigma around abortion and speak up for people who don’t have options for terminating their pregnancy.

“I would love for Utah legislators to respect women's autonomy to make decisions for themselves and about their health care and about what their family needs are," Reed said.

SB 174 passed along party lines, with 22 Republicans voting in favor and six Democrats against. District 19 Sen. Allen Christensen and District 26 Sen. Ron Winterton voted in support of the bill. SB 174 now heads to the House for consideration.

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.