Why Utah's HB297 Is Not In Survivor's Best Interest
Update: I was not expecting to post an update this quickly, but this is one I am happy to share. The bill (HB297S02) has been adjusted back to the original requirements listed in the law and in the trigger law. A physician would be required to ask a woman seeking abortion due to rape if she reported the crime to law enforcement, and that is all. No case number collection or signed affidavit will be required on the part of the physician. While I, personally, wish there wasn’t a mandate to report at all (even if it is not enforced) this is a massive step in the right direction.
As this bill is still in a state of flux, I will continue to monitor and update accordingly.
If Planned Parenthood were to lose their lawsuit against the state of Utah, the trigger law would go into effect, banning all abortions. One of very few exceptions to this law would be cases of rape or incest.
The way the Utah law and the trigger law are currently written, before a victim can obtain an abortion, a doctor must "verify" the rape was reported to law inforcement. Neither law states how that verification must happen. A doctor could simply ask "did you report the rape to law inforcement?" The woman could then answer yes, and the medical professional would have fulfilled his or her requirments, according to the law.
Representative Kera Birkeland wishes to change this. HB297 now requires a woman to provide her physician a case number from police, or sign a statement saying she has reported her rape to law enforment before being able to receive an abortion. In a Facebook Live posted on January 27th Birkeland stated her motivation for this requirement was to "collect data and hold rapists accountable." While I find it commendable to want to hold rapists accountable, this is not the way to go about it, or to go about collecting data. These are my main concerns with this line of reasoning:
1) Utah borders Nevada and Colorado. Women who have the financial means will cross state lines and access healthcare that way, skewing her data and doing nothing to hold rapists accountable.
2) Women who cannot afford to leave the state of Utah will perform dangerous, at home abortions, just like they did before Roe V Wade. Again, providing no data.
3) It is estimated that 90% of rape victims know their rapist. Many are in domestic relationships. In that scenario, it would not be safe for her to report her rape, and if she is in that type of relationship, she would likely not be able to leave the state, either. Given how unstable my mental state was in the initial months after my rape, I fear for the decisions women could make out of desperation. Rep. Birkeland wants numbers; I fear she will get suicide numbers.
4) If this legislation passes, I believe we will see a drastic increase in false reports, further skewing data. The sad reality is, false reports already happen, and they make it so much harder for women like me and my fellow survivors to be believed. Every single survivor I have spoken to (both male and female) in the last almost 8 years has said the fear they would not be believed kept them from coming forward. Women who have not been raped will not have experienced the trauma that survivors have, and will not have the same reluctance to file a false report. Not only will this uptick in false reports make it harder for survivors to be believed, but many innocent men may have their lives ruined in the process.
5) Our very justice system is not currently designed to hold rapists accountable. Brock Turner was recorded raping Chanel Miller (and if you knew that was her name before reading this, my hat is off to you; most do not know her name as we, as a society, shamefully hide away our victims of rape) and yet he only served 6 months. Meanwhile, Chanel went through hell and was drug forward and backward through the mud during the court case. In what should have been one of the most cut and dry rape cases of the century, the rapist got a slap on the wrist. Chanel Miller, if you should ever read this, I am proud of you for coming forward and letting the world know your name; thank you for using your voice.
There are parts of HB297 I do support. Offering emergency contraceptives, counseling services, and heathcare for the first year, should the woman choose to keep the baby, are all fantastic starts. However, I think it is absolutely draconian to only offer those services to those that go about healing the way Rep. Birkeland thinks they should.
Birkeland was quoted telling Deseret News that her bill "doesn't overburden rape victims because the woman wouldn't be required to press charges, and the reporting requirement could be met by a simple phone call." To this I say, it is never "a simple phone call." I was raped in August of 2014. I began therapy in January of 2015 and one of the first assignments I was given by my therapist was to sit with a friend and practice saying the phrase "I was raped." To that point, I had not been able to say those three words out loud. For the longest time, I tried to tell myself it didn't happen, it was just a bad dream. Also, if a woman is not required to press charges, then how does that accomplish Birkeland's stated goal of holding a perpetrator accountable?
I understand that, should Planned Parenthood fail and the trigger law go into effect, the reason Rep. Birkeland wants this bill in place is because of the reality that women, who have not been raped, will claim they were in order to receive an abortion. This is her way of "fact checking" they actually were raped. However, our very judicial system was founded on the belief that it is better for 10 guilty men to go free than 1 innocent man be wrongfully convicted. Why is the same not true for women? Why can we not simply trust women to do the right thing, and should she lie, allow that to be between her and her God? As someone who, for nearly a decade, has spent countless days and weeks speaking with men and women who have experienced rape, I've seen how truly fragile they are in the inital months. I do not understand why we are more concerned about "catching" those that may lie, instead of protecting and helping those who have been so brutely violated and are extremely vulnerable and in need of our help.
At the end of the day, the way it is currently written, this is an anti-abortion bill, not a survivors' bill. I fear for my fellow survivors should it pass.