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Utah House agrees contraceptives are a health need for female prisoners

The Utah State Prison in Draper is pictured on Tuesday Nov. 3, 2020. Some inmates are being granted early release because of coronavirus outbreaks.
The Utah State Prison in Draper is pictured on Tuesday Nov. 3, 2020. Some inmates are being granted early release because of coronavirus outbreaks.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House passed a bill on Tuesday that would require jails to give female inmates the contraceptive medication they received before their incarceration.

HB102 would prevent poor outcomes for mothers and children, as well as save the state money incurred by Medicaid for complicated deliveries, bill sponsor Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, said.

While few babies are actually getting conceived in jails, the disruption in a woman’s birth control during the average 27-day stay can cause pregnancy if she has sex soon before or after her incarceration, Dailey-Provost noted.

Doctors also prescribe contraceptives for a score of medical conditions including endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, anemia and heavy menstrual bleeding, she said.

During a debate in the House ahead of the bill’s final vote, some lawmakers questioned the program’s necessity and its cost to the state, while some emphasized that contraceptives are a medical need for many.

“Current law is that all things that are medically necessary that an inmate is on should be continued when they go in the jail,” Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, a medical doctor, told members of the House ahead of the bill’s final vote.

The only exceptions are birth control and controlled substances, he noted.

“Contraception is just a medicine. It’s medically necessary like other medicines,” Ward said. “My hope is today that we would think about that medicine as being the same as any other medicine.”

The bill would include oral and injectable contraceptives, as well as intrauterine devices for women who are prescribed them because they face serious side effects from the other contraceptive forms. Morning-after pills, which are not considered contraceptives, would not be included. Jails would only be obligated to provide the medications that were prescribed to women before their incarceration.

Prisons already provide women with contraceptives, Dailey-Provost noted.

The bill carries a fiscal note of $88,500 in ongoing funds as the Utah Department of Health would pay for the contraceptives.

“I actually think in the long run this saves the state quite a bit of money,” said Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, noting that the incarcerated population is “the state’s most expensive population.”

“I do believe that this is a favorable bill for that, but also from just a treatment of our incarcerated persons, I also think that it gives some necessary respect and health care that we need to honor,” Brammer said.

The bill passed the House 53-19. It will move to the Senate for consideration.