A new law in Utah will require biological fathers to pay half of the medical expenses of the mothers’ pregnancy and the birth, stirring debate about the state’s abortion and maternal health care policies.
The law, which Gov. Spencer J. Cox signed on March 16, amends Utah’s Child Support Act by requiring any father whose paternity has been established to pay half of the mother’s insurance premiums while she is pregnant, and any related medical costs, including the birth.
Some critics of the law have said it does not directly support pregnant women, and raised concerns it could tie women to abusive partners.
The bill, HB113, was sponsored by State Representative Brady Brammer and State Senator Daniel McCay, both Republicans, who argued it would increase the responsibility of men in pregnancies for which their paternity has been confirmed. When lawmakers passed the measure in January, Mr. Brammer said it was meant to be seen as a type of “pro-life” measure, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Brammer said he partly sponsored the bill to find a way to address some of the “very contentious” abortion bills that have passed through the Legislature and been challenged in courts.
“I wanted to try to do something that may help the situation, which is people in a really tough spot, making a really tough decision,” he said.
“This was not necessarily intended to be about abortion,” he added. “It was the idea that abortion is happening because people are put in a really difficult situation”
But the law has stimulated debate in the state about abortion and domestic abuse issues in Utah, where women considering abortion are required to receive counseling that includes information that could discourage them from having an abortion, and then to wait 72 hours.
Most states, including Utah, follow the standard set by the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which says abortion is legal until the fetus reaches viability, usually at 24 to 28 weeks. Utah has a so-called “trigger ban” that says it would automatically be illegal to have an abortion in the state if the Roe decision were overturned.
A 2019 bill that would ban the procedure in most cases at or after 18 weeks has been stalled in Utah under an injunction, as it is being challenged in court by Planned Parenthood.
Karrie Galloway, the president of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said pregnant women should be able to determine for themselves what is best for them.
“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 in a statement on Tuesday.
“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,” she said.
The law, which takes effect on May 5, may make Utah the first state to have a stand-alone mandate for prenatal child support. A few states, including Wisconsin and New York, have a legal path that can result in fathers being financially responsible for pregnancy costs, according to Mr. Brammer.
Maryland’s family code says a court may order a father to pay medical and hospital expenses for pregnancy, childbirth and recovery. In Mississippi, child support orders may include pregnancy and childbirth expenses. In New Hampshire, a public welfare act says a father is liable for “reasonable expenses” of the pregnancy.
State Representative Brian King, a Democrat representing Salt Lake County House District 28, who dissented when the bill was voted in earlier this year, had said he was concerned that the bill could financially entangle women with abusive partners, The Tribune reported.
Mr. Brammer said on Tuesday that women would be able to control whether they ask for the pregnancy assistance from the father. “This likely happens after birth, as part of the claim for child support if she chooses,” he said.