Pregnancy hadn’t been easy for Neena Earl. Her first daughter was stillborn and she had four miscarriages before giving birth to two children.
She and her husband were thrilled to add another sibling to the family, only to find out the fetus had a significant genetic abnormality.
“We were given a choice after a medical ethics committee reviewed it and they told us we could cancel if we wanted to,” she told me last week. “It was obviously the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life. I think it was even harder than going through the stillbirth with my daughter. … It was upsetting, it was horrific. It was hell.”
It was also a decision she was grateful for, and after a draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked to Politico last Monday, she worries that women may not be able to make that decision in the future.
The majority of the court, the opinion said, would uphold Roe v. Repeal Wade’s 1973 law and give each state the ability to choose whether to allow women the option of terminating a pregnancy.
The Utah Legislature has already passed one of the most restrictive laws in the country, banning almost all abortions, which will go into effect after a Supreme Court ruling is made official — which is expected to happen in June.
“I just feel like I can’t believe this is happening in my lifetime,” Earl said after hundreds of people rallied in the Utah Capitol against the possible court ruling to uphold the right to vote.
“This is 2022 and if that was me and that goes through,” she said, “I never would have had the opportunity to do it [have an abortion] and I might have experienced another stillbirth or watched my child slowly die and be forced to endure that pregnancy.
Examples like Earl’s point to the problem that arises when the law attempts to set clear boundaries that cannot possibly take into account that life is not easy. It’s messy and complicated and doesn’t always go as planned.
They can dislike abortion and believe it’s good that the abortion rate in Utah is at a 40-year low, and still understand that women should be able to make their own choices about what’s right in their individual circumstances when life doesn’t go as planned—a level of individual freedom and self-determination that will be taken away when Utah law goes into effect.
“There are as many reasons people choose to have an abortion or make the very complex, personal decision that’s right for them and their families as there are people,” said Jessica Sanders, a professor of family planning at the University of Utah .
dr David Turok, a gynecologist at the University of Utah, said he has on multiple occasions cared for two patients who were simultaneously diagnosed with the same heart defect with the same prognosis – each undergoing multiple operations with a risk of death and, if the child survives, a limited operation life – and these women have chosen different options.
“Both felt relieved and respected in their decision, and they felt they made the right decision for their family,” Turok said. (Both he and Sanders stressed that their views were their own and that they did not represent the university.)
“It seems to me how could you 100% know the right answer for someone else?” Turok said. “The world is a complicated place and you determine that regardless of the circumstances, you must proceed with a pregnancy you do not want.”
A few years ago, Lynn Phillips found out she was pregnant after her intrauterine device contraception, which was almost always effective, failed. “I kind of remember being just petrified with fear,” she said.
She and her husband had planned their life without children and had taken reasonable steps to prevent pregnancy, but were thrown into a corner. Together they made the decision to have an abortion. Phillips said she remembered sitting in the waiting room with a teenage girl and her mother and a few other women. Encouraging and reassuring notes from other women who had passed through the clinic were posted on the wall.
Phillips said the procedure itself was “extremely expensive, extremely painful, and extremely traumatic,” but she has no regrets. However, she worries that women may be forced to pursue unwanted pregnancies once Utah law goes into effect.
If the situation arose again, she said, she would travel abroad for the procedure – and anyway she and her husband are considering moving “where my rights are protected, where I won’t be punished for just existing”.
If Utah’s law is triggered, Turok estimates that 99% of abortions currently performed will be illegal. That doesn’t mean they will go away.
Those who can afford it travel abroad. Those who cannot do this will be forced to take more desperate measures.
Utah law will re-sacrifice survivors of rape. While there is an exception allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest, the law requires the doctor to verify that the assault has been reported to the police. Based on the most recent Utah data (from 2007), only one in eight sexual assaults is reported to law enforcement. National data from 2018 put the number at one in four.
Both figures indicate that there will be women who are victims of rape or incest and will be forced by the state to carry the fetus to term, an unimaginable level of cruelty.
The law also provides an exception for a “uniformly fatal” defect in the fetus, a vague term that puts doctors in the untenable position of deciding whether a defect is likely to be fatal or definitely fatal.
Utah could do better. We could seek policies that seek compassion and empathy, recognize the complexities of life, and reflect the will of Utah voters.
Instead, Utah lawmakers, in their moral zeal, have pushed through a black-and-white solution that ignores the nuances, penalizes women, and jeopardizes their health and well-being.
If you would like to support women affected by the upcoming court decision, you can make a contribution to the Utah Abortion Fund at or Planned Parenthood of Utah at
https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2022/05/09/utah-lawmakers-abortion/ The Utah legislature’s abortion ban does not take into account women’s health and well-being, writes Robert Gehrke