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House passes bill offering IUDs to low-income women

FILE - Republican Rep. Ray Ward speaks during a news conference at the Capitol, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, in Salt Lake City.
FILE - Republican Rep. Ray Ward speaks during a news conference at the Capitol, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, in Salt Lake City.
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill offering IUDs and other family planning assistance to women through Medicaid passed the House Tuesday despite a concern raised that it was an effort to prevent low-income women from having children.

The sponsor of HB12, Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, said Utah was one of only seven states that doesn't cover long-acting, reversible birth control like intrauterine devices that come with a high upfront cost but ultimately results in savings.

Ward said other states have seen declines in Medicaid enrollment and other assistance programs when "families are able to plan when to have children," as well as a drop in abortions.

The bill spells out that family planning does not include abortions. It would require the state to spend $800,000 to receive a $5.1 million federal match when fully implemented under a Medicaid waiver.

Several lawmakers praised the bill, but Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, compared it to what he called a "disturbing and very dark period of American history" when he said women were subjected to government sterilization programs.

Thurston said the policy set forth in the bill has only one goal, "to prevent low-income women from having babies" and reinforces the idea that "babies hold back families."

He also said there are already affordable birth control methods available to low-income Utahns, including abstinence and condoms, and that drug companies offer access to such birth control to low-income women at a reduced cost.

House Minority Assistant Whip Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, raised a point of order, questioning whether Thurston's comments were germane to the bill and he was advised to "be mindful" by House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper.

Romero said she uses an IUD for health reasons.

"This is not forced sterilization. This is a decision women make about their reproductive health," she said. "This is a good option for women regardless of their social status."

Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley, said he backed the bill because it empowers women "to make choices that will impact their lives." He said he wants Utah to have the same cost savings and reduction in abortions as other states have experienced.

HB12 passed the House 53-21 and now goes to the Senate.