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Utah will be the first to mandate prenatal child support. Does the law support those who need it most?

SHARE Utah will be the first to mandate prenatal child support. Does the law support those who need it most?

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during his monthly news conference on March 18, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Cox has signed a law requiring biological fathers to pay half of a woman’s out-of-pocket pregnancy costs.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Let me start with some numbers. 

  • $10,808: The average cost of a complication free vaginal-delivery birth in the United States. 
  • $30,000–$50,000: The total cost of pregnancy and delivery when prenatal care is factored in, before insurance, according to a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The lower end for a normal delivery, and anywhere up to higher end — or more — if there is a cesarean-section or complications. This was last updated in 2007, and some estimates put the high end of costs closer to $250,000. 
  • $284,570: The estimated cost of raising a child through the age of 17, before college tuition, with inflation factored in. 
  • 17%: The number of civilian workers in the United States who have access to any sort of paid parental leave. 
  • 40%: The number of women in the workforce who do not qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which grants 12 weeks of protected job leave, unpaid. 
  • Zero. The amount of weeks of guaranteed paid maternity or parental leave in the United States. 

Taken into account, it’s easy to see where a new Utah law, which requires fathers to cover 50% of pregnancy-related costs, can make a dent for single mothers.

The law, signed by Gov. Spencer Cox on March 16, will go into effect in May. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, says the intent isn’t directly to lower abortion rates, but to aid expectant mothers.

Some other states like Wisconsin and New York, have similar policies compelling fathers to provide prenatal financial support, but Utah’s is believed to be the widest reaching.  

Support for helping pregnant women has come from both pro-life and pro-choice spokespeople, though there is some skepticism over how much it will really lower abortion rates. 

As highlighted above, the cost — both financially and personally — is much higher than just the cost of the delivery and related care. Studies show that comprehensive sex education and affordable access to contraceptives are the most effective ways to lower abortion rates. Parental leave and career impact is also a factor that still needs to be addressed. 

However, knowing there will be some financial support certainly may be the deciding factor for some women not to opt for abortion. In addition to existing child support, the relief of the financial burden on those who find themselves in unforeseen circumstances can make a considerable difference. 

There is an aspect of the law that could have unintended consequences — there are no protections or guidelines in place for vulnerable pregnant women. 

Here are two more numbers to consider: 

Tragically, violence tends to escalate during pregnancy, leading to potentially fatal circumstances for both the mother and fetus. The details of these women’s stories are horrific, and the topic of pregnancy-related abuse is largely taboo. Despite the natural aversion to the topic, it must be addressed if we are to adequately protect women and children. 

Adding a financial obligation to actively violent or violence-prone intimate partners puts at-risk women in danger. The law may help some, but it could be the tipping point for others. 

Other policies or laws may need to be instituted to mitigate the negative impact and ensure the law is as equitable as it aims to be. 

And for those fathers who refuse to pay? There are no provisions to help mothers navigate the complex legal system and its significant costs. While the law may help some, it better serves those already in a comfortable financial position than those who are truly struggling. 

Speaking to NBC, Gabriella Archuleta, a public policy analyst at YWCA Utah, worried that the law isn’t as comprehensive as is needed. 

“What we’re here to do is look at some of the nuances and how it impacts women, and I don’t think those nuances were really explored to the extent that they should have been,” Archuleta said. 

Calls to the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition have increased between 25%-50% during the COVID-19 pandemic, Liz Sollis, media consultant for the coalition, previously told me. Economic insecurity and the related stress is believed to be a large reason for this. 

At surface level, the law is a step forward to providing support to pregnant women. It will sufficiently do that for some. For others, it may make a risky situation worse — even fatal. 

If the goal is to truly preserve life, further measures and preventative actions need to be taken that give at-risk women a safe place that protects them and their unborn child from harm, while still providing the support necessary to prenatal care and childbirth.