SALT LAKE CITY – Utah biological fathers will be legally required to pay half of a woman’s out-of-pocket pregnancy costs under a new state-unique law that critics say does not do enough to adequately address maternal health care .
The bill’s sponsor has presented the measure as an attempt to reduce the pregnancy burden for women and increase responsibility for men who have children. But some critics argue that the new legislation does not help women who are most vulnerable and can make violent situations even more dangerous for pregnant women.
Utah appears to be the first state to mandate prenatal child support, according to the state̵
Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, recently signed the proposal, which received widespread support in the GOP-controlled legislature.
The Republican rep. Brady Brammer said he decided to sponsor the measure because he had been frustrated by the number of anti-abortion measures being reviewed by the legislature and wanted to pursue legislation that would make it easier to bring life into the world.
“We want to help people and actually be pro-life in how we do it as opposed to anti-abortion,” Brammer said. “One of the ways to help with that was to help reduce the pregnancy burden.”
The bill applies to a pregnant woman’s health insurance premiums and any pregnancy-related medical costs, Brammer said.
If the child’s paternity is disputed, fathers do not have to pay until after the paternity has been established. The father would also not be financially responsible for the cost of an abortion received without his consent unless necessary to prevent the mother’s death or if the pregnancy was the result of rape.
In Utah, mothers already have the option of seeking support related to maternity expenses through the courts, but few do, said Liesa Stockdale, director of the state Office of Recovery Services, which typically collects child support. She said mothers will now have the option to also apply for pregnancy-related payments through the legal system, but it is unclear how often they will pursue it.
“I do not know how often it will be used,” Stockdale said. It remains to be seen how often parents choose to pursue these costs. But definitely if they do, we’re here to collect. ”
The bill is not intended to lower the frequency of abortions, but Brammer said it could be a potential outcome.
Anti-abortion activists have praised the bill, but say it will protect the lives of unborn children by supporting women through their pregnancy. Merrilee Boyack, president of the abortion-free Utah coalition, said she hopes this bill will reduce abortions in the state by reducing the economic pressure on new mothers.
“Anything we can do to support women in these circumstances will help them be able to give birth to their babies, feel good about that choice, and feel supported along the way,” Boyack said.
The new legislation comes at the top of a long list of restrictions that Utah has placed on abortion. Last year, the state approved a measure that would make abortions illegal if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decades-old ruling that legalized the nationwide. The Utah measure would make it a crime to carry out the procedure, 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. Sweeping abortion bans have already been signed into law in South Carolina and Arkansas.
Democratic lawmakers and women’s rights activists have questioned whether the new legislation on fathers that helps cover costs will actually meet women’s needs.
Planned Parenthood Spokeswoman Katrina Barker said she supports giving women more financial support, but said there are better ways to help women, such as expanding Medicaid, accessing contraception and giving paid parental leave.
Barker also said she does not believe this legislation will lead to fewer women having abortions because the cost of pregnancy is typically small compared to the cost of raising a child.
“In the big system of things, it will be a lot more money to have a child and raise them for adulthood,” Barker said.
The average cost of raising a child is $ 233,610 – excluding college costs – for a middle-income family, according to a 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The cost of an abortion can range from being free to up to $ 1,000 depending on the location and whether the mother has health insurance, according to Planned Parenthood.
Domestic abuse tends to escalate during pregnancy, and seeking these costs can further increase stressors for financial support for a baby, said Gabriella Archuleta, a public policy analyst at YWCA Utah who provides services to survivors in the home. 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 justify the high cost of navigating the justice system and is likely to only serve women who are richer or have wealthy partners.
“On the surface of that, it 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 were really explored to the extent they should have been.”