SALT LAKE CITY – Utah biological fathers will be legally required to pay half of a woman’s pregnancy expenses under a new law unique to the state that critics say is not doing enough to adequately meet maternal health care needs.
The sponsor of the bill presented the measure as an attempt to reduce the burden of pregnancy on women and increase the responsibility for men who have children. But some critics say the new legislation will not help women who are most vulnerable and could make situations of violence even more dangerous for pregnant women.
Utah appears to be the first state to impose prenatal child support, according to the state̵
Republican Gov. Spencer Cox recently signed the proposal, which received widespread support in the GOP-controlled legislature.
Republican Brady Bramer said he decided to sponsor the measure because he was disappointed with the number of anti-abortion measures going through the legislature and wanted to pursue legislation that would make life easier for the world.
“We want to help people and actually be pro-life the way we do it, as opposed to fighting abortion,” Brammer said. “One way to help with that was to reduce the burden of pregnancy.”
The bill will cover a pregnant woman’s health insurance premiums and all medical expenses related to pregnancy, Brammer said.
If the child’s paternity is disputed, the fathers will not be obliged to pay until the paternity is established. The father will also not be financially responsible for the costs of an abortion obtained without his consent, unless it is necessary to prevent the mother’s death or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.
In Utah, mothers now have the opportunity to seek childbirth support through the courts, but few do, said Liesa Stockdale, director of the state’s Rehabilitation Service, which usually collects child support. She said mothers would now be able to seek pregnancy-related payments through the legal system, but it was unclear how often they would apply.
“I don’t know how often it will be used,” Stockdale said. “It remains to be seen how often parents will choose to bear these costs. But surely, if they do, we are here to gather. “
The bill is not intended to reduce the frequency of abortions, but Brammer said it could be a potential outcome.
Anti-abortion activists praise the bill, saying it will protect the lives of unborn children by supporting women during their pregnancies. Merily Boyak, chairman of the Utah-Free Coalition Without Abortion, said she hoped the bill would reduce abortions in the state by reducing economic pressure on new mothers.
“Everything we can do to support women in these circumstances will help them to be able to give birth to their babies, to feel good about this choice and to feel supported along the way,” Boyak said.
The new legislation is on a long list of restrictions that Utah has imposed on abortion. Last year, the state approved a measure that would make abortion illegal if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a decade-long ruling that legalized it nationwide. The measure in Utah would make it a crime to carry out the procedure, except in cases involving rape, incest and a serious threat to the mother’s life.
This year, other Republican-run states are considering a number of strict restrictions on abortion. Abortion bans have already been signed in South Carolina and Arkansas.
Democratic lawmakers and women’s rights activists have questioned whether the new legislation on fathers, which helps cover costs, will actually meet women’s needs.
Planned Parenting spokeswoman Katrina Barker said she supported providing more financial support to women, but said there were better ways to help women, such as expanding Medicaid, accessing contraception and providing paid parental leave.
Barker also said he did not believe the legislation would lead to fewer women having abortions, as the cost of pregnancy is usually lower than the cost of raising a child.
“In the grand scheme of things, having a child and raising them to adulthood will be a lot more money,” Barker said.
The average cost of raising a child is $ 233,610 – excluding college costs – for a middle-income family, according to a 2015 U.S. Department of Agriculture report. The cost of an abortion can range from free to up to $ 1,000 depending on the location and whether the mother has health insurance, according to Planned Parenthood.
Domestic violence tends to escalate during pregnancy, and demand for these costs can further increase the stressors of financially supporting a baby, said Gabriela Archuleta, a public policy analyst at YWCA Utah that provides services to victims of domestic violence. About 324,000 pregnant women are abused each year in the United States, according to data from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Archuleta also noted that this measure does not fairly address the high cost of navigating the legal system and is likely to serve only women who are wealthier or have wealthier partners.
“At first glance, that sounds like a good idea,” Archuleta said. “But what we need to do is look at some of the nuances and how it affects women, and I don’t think those nuances have really been explored to the extent that they should be.”