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EXPECTANT WALDHOLTZ FITTING REPRESENTATIVE FOR MOST FERTILE STATE

After a single year in which they gave up the No. 1 ranking, the women of Utah are back doing what they do better than women of any other state: having a multitude of babies at an unmatched pace.

Shaking a century-old stigma for its early promotion of polygamy, the Beehive State has become a nuclear family nirvana, of sorts. It ranks last in unwed teenage mothers and first in fertility rate. One of every 10 residents are under the age of 5.So it seems only natural that a Utah politician is following the demographic trend and, in the process, trying to do what no other Republican member of Congress has ever done: give birth while in office.

Rep. Enid Greene Waldholtz, 36, would become only the second member of Congress ever to have a baby in office. Former Rep. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, D-Calif., was the first, in 1973.

The influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long been cited as the reason for Utah's top-ranking in the birthrate. That is usually expressed as the number of babies born per 1,000 people and the fertility rate, or the number of newborns per 1,000 women of child-bearing age.

In both categories Utah is about 33 percent higher than the national average, and more than 50 percent higher than most European countries.

While the church does not specifically forbid birth control or promote large families, young women are encouraged to marry and have children.

Some Utahns say that a woman who decides not to have children can find herself shut out of many social gatherings, even shunned. When Waldholtz first ran for Congress, unsuccessfully in 1992, the campaign of the winner, Karen Shepherd, pointed out that its candidate was a wife and mother, while the Republican was childless and single.

Waldholtz now is married to Joe Waldholtz, whom she met in the Young Republican organization.

Of her pregnancy, she said, "I'm not doing this to make a point. I'm doing this because I want a family."

With the exception of one radio talk-show host who said Waldholtz should resign, the reaction in her home district in Salt Lake City has been overwhelmingly positive, she said. She is serving her first term in office and is now in the second term of her pregnancy. The baby is due in September.

"There is a strong cultural feeling here - even among people who are not Mormon - that having babies and supporting families is the most important thing you can do," said Waldholtz.

Dr. Geraldine Mineau, a University of Utah professor who has studied the state's fertility rates, said there is considerable peer pressure to have babies. "It's just one of the basic expectations of a couple," she said.

About 70 percent of Utah's population are LDS. Even those who are new to the state seem to find pregnancy sentiment contagious.

"It's my greatest dream now, my ultimate goal - to have a big family," said Danna Kennedy, who moved to Utah one month ago from New Mexico. "I'd like to have at least four kids - maybe five."

On Friday, Kennedy, 23 and unmarried, was strolling along the grounds of Temple Square, the headquarters of the LDS Church, in downtown Salt Lake City. The square seemed the picture of springtime fecundity, with its tulips in full blossom and dozens of young couples in formal wedding attire waiting to be married in the temple.

Tiffany Kofoed, who is seven months pregnant with her first baby, said that in Utah there is a "cultural emphasis" on having babies, unlike any other place. "You learn very early on, through education," she said.

A person can get married in Utah at the age of 14 with parental consent. In most states, the age is 16 with parental consent.

"We have an awful lot of what used to be called child brides," said Cynthia Taylor, an official with Utah Children, a private child-welfare advocacy agency. "We're basically the marrying state and the baby state. People like to joke that it's something in the water."

Indeed, Utah ranks first in the percentage of households with married couples and children.

But the nationwide Census of 1990 dealt a major blow to Utah's long-held position as the state with the highest birthrate. In that census, Alaska barely edged Utah as the state with the highest birthrate, 21.6 babies born per thousand people versus 21.1 in Utah.

Now, Utah is firmly back in the top spot, posting the nation's highest birthrate for the past two years to be completely tabulated, 1991 and '92. The rate was 20.5 births per thousand in 1992.