SALT LAKE CITY — Each year, Utah lawmakers propose at least a few bills targeting abortion, but one lawmaker says he wants to take a different approach to prevent the procedure.
“Oftentimes, there’s this battle between pro-life and pro-choice where some of the pro-life positions really turn into the perception that it’s just anti-abortion. And I really got sick of those things and wondered what we could do that’s really a pro-life thing, and how could we help step up the responsibility for men in the bringing of life into the world?” Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, asked in a House committee meeting Wednesday.
“For unmarried fathers, there is oftentimes a woman who is bearing the entire brunt of medical costs going through the period of gestation until birth,” Brammer said.
His bill, HB113, would allow pregnant women to seek payment of 50% of her out-of-pocket pregnancy and delivery medical costs and insurance premiums from the biological father. If paternity is disputed, he would not need to pay under the bill until his paternity is established.
A pregnant woman’s medical costs could still get paid by charities or other groups without the man getting double-billed, Brammer told members of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would only address the medical costs the woman personally incurs.
Brammer said insurance companies expressed concern that they would need to send separate bills to fathers and mothers, but Brammer said that is not the case. Instead, the mothers would seek payment directly or through the courts, according to Brammer.
The Office of Recovery Services could handle the process as it does with child support, Brammer said. Under that system, the office often garnishes paychecks to collect child support.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, expressed concern about potential implications for women leaving abusive relationships.
“I worry that we’re tying ... a woman who is pregnant to an abusive partner or a partner who is engaging in domestic abuse, or in other ways. The last thing we want to do is tie these two individuals together,” King said.
He said he appreciates Brammer’s effort to increase accountability for men, but he doesn’t want to put women in a situation where they need to rely on others when deciding how to move forward with their pregnancy.
Brammer said that the risk would be the same as it is for those who get child support — an issue that already arises once the child is born.
“All of those factors are still present either way, and I don’t think this changes that risk matrix,” Brammer said.
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, said she’s concerned that under the bill men could be required to pay for abortions they don’t approve of.
If the mother does receive an abortion, Brammer said, the father wouldn’t be responsible for the cost unless the abortion is necessary to prevent the death of the mother as determined by her doctor, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape.
Like King, Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, questioned how the bill would affect women who choose to have nothing to do with the father of their unborn child.
Brammer reiterated that the woman would not be required to seek payment from the biological father, but would have that option.
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, worried that many women won’t be able to afford to go through the court process to seek payment.
“It’s pretty daunting to say, ‘In order to collect, you’ve got to file a case in court and get a garnishment.’ And I’m just wondering, and I’m not suggesting you change anything, but these folks don’t have a lot of means, many of them, to begin with,” Snow noted.
Brammer said the Office of Recovery Services could assist women using federal funds, and other programs are in place to help as with other child support issues. He said he doesn’t have the “full solution” to make sure women can get through the process, but he wants to make sure a process at least exists.
Most women who seek payments from the biological fathers of their unborn children likely won’t see the payments until after the children are born, Brammer noted.
“Because unless there’s a lot of good communication going on between the mother and the father throughout that period, it would need to be a voluntary payment which they would already make, or it would be delayed enough systematically that it happens a little later in the process,” he said.
King said he fears some men will see the language in the bill — which states that biological fathers have a “duty” to help pay the medical bills — and use it as a way to assert: “I have this duty, you can’t escape me.”
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing for them to have that duty, first of all. Using that duty in an inappropriate way to try to exert control is not the intent of this, and I don’t think that that’s what this does, largely because I don’t know how he would have standing to go and exert that duty. There has to be some level of a petition (from the mother), and he cannot be a petitioner to go pay,” Brammer said.
The bill received a favorable recommendation with an 8-1 vote from the committee. It will move to a vote in the full House.