Utah’s New Law Could Be Part of Winning Pro-Life Strategy

New pro-life measure recognizes the father’s responsibility for his unborn child, and financially empowers the mother.

Pregnant woman sits alone on a park bench.
Pregnant woman sits alone on a park bench. (photo: Coffeemill / Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON — As a host of legislation has sprung up in the states aimed at chipping away at Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court, one new Utah law appears to have sidestepped that debate entirely with a focus instead on financially empowering women in crisis pregnancies.

It does this by requiring biological fathers to pay half of pregnancy costs. And some in the pro-life movement believe that a renewed legislative focus on alleviating the economic burdens a woman faces in pregnancy, and acknowledging paternal responsibility, is a winning strategy at a time when laws directly restricting abortion face long periods of litigation.

The measure, recently signed into law by Republican Gov. Spencer J. Cox, states, “a biological father of a child has a duty to pay 50% of the mother’s pregnancy expenses” and also stipulates that a biological father will not have to pay for an abortion obtained without his consent except in cases of a threat to the life of the mother or rape.

State Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, who sponsored the legislation, spoke with the Register Tuesday about why he introduced the legislation and how he thinks it might reduce abortions.

“Everybody has seen the legal landscape, there’s a lot of legislation that is leading to litigation that will eventually arrive at the Supreme Court and everything is in limbo,” he said. “In the meantime, we know that there are people arriving at a decision point related to abortion because their situation is extremely difficult and typically if someone who is without means or is just in a very vulnerable situation, the idea of bringing a child into the world is very scary and rightfully so.” 

“As I was looking at this,” Brammer added, “I just felt like maybe we can do something that’s very pro-life and that helps alleviate at least a little bit of that fear and that sense of being alone without really delving into the issue of abortion and so that’s where this came from.” 

“At the same time, there’s an issue of responsibility that I felt like men weren’t really stepping up to the plate on,” he continued, “I’m a father of five and I can tell you that it wasn’t the moment that my children were born that I felt responsible, it was the moment that I learned that my wife was pregnant and I don’t think I’m unique in feeling that way.”

“So the idea that the father is responsible for some of the financial costs throughout pregnancy as opposed to just post-pregnancy seems to resonate with people and they feel that that’s generally how it should be,” Brammer said. 


Mothers Make the Decision

Brammer is hopeful that the measure will pass in other states, as well, and viewed it as a pro-life victory because “from a pro-life perspective it recognizes that the responsibility related to a child happens earlier than birth and that’s not a bad thing, any time you can have the law recognize life in the womb I think is a step forward from the pro-life side.”

The Utah legislator also addressed concerns about the measure having negative effects for women in abusive situations. 

“The woman is not required to seek this if she doesn’t want to, it’s something that’s within her control to seek,” he said, adding, “it’s going to be unlikely that most women are going to seek this during the pregnancy and that’s not necessarily an issue related to the policy or the bill, it’s more the realities of how medical billing happens and the delay and when those costs really begin to accrue, that typically happens after pregnancy. It’s six months to a year after the birth that you start to really get an idea of what all the costs have been for the pregnancy. I think this kind of gets bundled in with a request for child support.”

Brammer said, “There are pro-life measures that facilitate bringing life into the world that have nothing to do with abortion and while I do think that the abortion arguments are important, I think that we’re missing some of the gains that could be had on making it so that abortion is not the most attractive option because the rest of the options are so difficult and burdensome.”


Supporting Women

Merrilee Boyack, chairwoman of the Abortion Free Utah coalition, told the Register Tuesday that her group is “hoping that this is another added level of support for vulnerable pregnant women and that they will be more willing to give birth to their babies.” 

She pointed out that “a high percentage of women seek abortion under pressure from boyfriends, husbands, family members, etc. and so we’re hoping that this will help them to feel some hope that they can handle the expenses and be able to give birth to their child.”

“We’re hoping that all the states and countries for that matter adopt such a law because we feel that the women deserve that support and, of course, we feel that the babies deserve that support as well,” she said.

She also noted the ambivalent response of abortion groups like Planned Parenthood to the measure. 

“It was intriguing to me that the No. 1 objection that I’ve seen to this is raising a child is very expensive,” she said, “to which I say, ‘Fine then place the child for adoption, you don’t need to worry about that or if you choose to have the child that father is going to be responsible for half of those expenses anyway if that is your choice.’”

In media statements, Planned Parenthood seemed to mainly object that the measure did not go far enough. 

Karrie Galloway, the president of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, told The New York Times, “While we appreciate that this bill highlights how expensive it is to be pregnant and that many women struggle to cover the costs of their health care, we feel there are better ways to support pregnant people and families.” 

She said, “expanded Medicaid, better insurance coverage, equitable access to reproductive health care, and paid family leave are just a few ways policymakers could do much more.” 

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Katrina Barker told The Washington Post that she doesn’t believe the measure will lead to fewer abortions because “in the grand scheme of things, having a child and raising them to adulthood is going to be a lot more money.”

Boyack believes that the measure highlighted “a good strategy for those of us who want to save unborn babies to expand our laws and our protections for vulnerable pregnant women.” 

“The net effect of that will be that as women are supported they will choose to give birth,” she said. “I think most women want to protect their babies, so I think with the current administration that may be a successful strategy.”

Jean Hill, director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace, told Catholic News Agency that “the law is a positive pro-life measure to help women who want to keep their baby but feel overwhelmed by the costs.” She said “a woman may choose whether to seek payments and, if she does choose to pursue this option, reinforce the fiscal responsibility a father should accept for creating life.”


Renewed Focus on Resources 

Katie Glenn, government affairs counsel at Americans United for Life, told the Register the Utah law is a “new, creative approach,” which “acknowledges the biological reality that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby and that both should be responsible for that child, too often we see women feel abandoned and alone. This law really cements that reality that he is involved, he is responsible, and that a child is not a woman’s problem to solve, but an individual human being with two parents.”

Glenn saw it as “a positive continuation of what we’ve seen within the movement with an increase in support for pregnancy care centers, with states passing laws making sure that informed consent includes providing women with information about what state-funded resources are available, making sure she has the information that she needs and that she’s not abandoned, she’s not alone because that man did play an integral role in creating that child.”

“We’ve seen bills in that same spirit in other states really increasing access and support for adoption,” she said, referencing a bill in Texas focused on “both perinatal hospice care but also providing women with greater information about pregnancy resources. I think we’re seeing a shift in the legislatures towards that kind of thinking, I think it is very positive.”

“They’re serious about it, a lot of them are engaged in volunteer or financial support for pregnancy care centers,” Glenn added. “Right now, care centers outnumber Planned Parenthoods five to one in the United States. What we’re hearing in the states is that people are very serious about this. They realize that part of wanting to end the horror of abortion is that we will have more families who need support, more families who need that little lift and we need to put our money and put our time where our mouth is and really be there for them.”