SALT LAKE CITY – Utah’s biological fathers are required by law to pay half a woman’s pregnancy costs out of pocket under a new law that only applies in the state where critics say it is insufficient to adequately meet the health care needs of mothers to satisfy.
The sponsor of the bill presented the measure to reduce the burden of pregnancy on women and to increase responsibility for men with children. However, some critics argue that the new legislation will not help women who are most vulnerable and could make abusive situations even more dangerous for pregnant women.
Utah appears to be the first state to require prenatal child support, according to the state’s Planned Parenthood Association and the sponsor of the law. However, some states, including Wisconsin and New York, have regulations that can leave fathers financially responsible for pre-natal expenses.
Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, recently signed the proposal, which received widespread support in the GOP-controlled legislature.
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Republican MP Brady Brammer said he decided to sponsor the measure because he was frustrated with the number of anti-abortion measures that go through the legislature and wanted to pursue laws that would make it easier to live in the world bring.
Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, recently signed the proposal, which received widespread support in the GOP-controlled legislature. (AP Photo / Rick Bowmer, File)
“We want to help people and actually be pro-life like we do, as opposed to anti-abortion,” Brammer said. “One way to help with this was to reduce the burden of pregnancy.”
The bill would cover a pregnant woman’s health insurance premiums and any pregnancy-related medical expenses, Brammer said.
If the child’s paternity is controversial, the fathers do not have to pay until the paternity has been established. Nor would the father be financially responsible for the cost of an abortion obtained without his consent, unless it was necessary to prevent the mother’s death or the pregnancy was the result of rape.
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In Utah, mothers already have options to seek assistance related to childbirth expenses in court, but few, said Liesa Stockdale, director of the state’s Office of Recovery Services, which typically collects child support. She said mothers will now have the option to apply for pregnancy-related payments through the legal system as well, but it is unclear how often they will pursue this.
“I don’t know how often it’s used,” Stockdale said. “It remains to be seen how often parents will pursue these charges. But if they do, we are here to collect.”
The bill isn’t meant to lower the frequency of abortions, but Brammer said it could be a potential outcome.
However, anti-abortion activists have praised the bill, saying it will protect the lives of unborn children by supporting women during their pregnancy. Merrilee Boyack, leader of the Utah Abortion-Free Coalition, hopes this bill will reduce abortions in the state by easing economic pressures on young mothers.
“Anything we can do to support women in these circumstances will help them give birth, feel comfortable with this choice, and feel supported in it,” Boyack said.
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The new legislation is at the top of a long list of restrictions Utah has placed on abortion. Last year the state approved a measure that would make abortions illegal if the US Supreme Court overturned the decade-old ruling legalizing it nationwide. The Utah action would make it a criminal offense to conduct the trial except in cases of rape, incest, and serious threat to a mother’s life.
Other Republican-ruled states have considered a number of tough anti-abortion restrictions this year. Major abortion bans have already been signed in South Carolina and Arkansas.
Democratic lawmakers and women’s rights activists have questioned whether the new cost-recovery fathers legislation will actually meet women’s needs.
Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Katrina Barker said she supports giving more financial aid to women, but there are better ways to help women, such as expanding Medicaid, providing access to contraception and providing paid parental leave.
Barker also said she doesn’t think this legislation will result in fewer women having abortions, as the cost of getting pregnant is usually small compared to the cost of raising a child.
“By the grand scheme of things, having a child and raising them into adulthood is going to be a lot more money,” Barker said.
According to a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost of raising a child – excluding college costs – is $ 233,610 for a middle-income family. The cost of an abortion can range from free to up to $ 1,000, according to Planned Parenthood, depending on the location and whether the mother has health insurance.
Domestic abuse tends to escalate during pregnancy, and finding those costs could further add to the stress of helping a baby financially, said Gabriella Archuleta, a policy analyst at YWCA Utah, which provides services to domestic violence survivors. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, approximately 324,000 pregnant women are mistreated each year in the United States.
Archuleta also noted that this move does not do justice to the high cost of navigating the legal system and will likely only serve women who are richer or have wealthy partners.
“On the surface it sounds like a good idea,” said Archuleta. “But we’re here to look at some of the nuances and how they affect women, and I don’t think those nuances have really been explored to the extent that they should have been.”
Eppolito is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national service program in which journalists report undercover issues to local newsrooms.