The 2021 Legislative Session is officially over! This session is one we won’t soon forget, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced all of us to engage in new ways. We never packed a committee room or staged an action. Instead, we showed up virtually with Zoom meetings and online streaming of committee hearings and floor time. We are grateful to the Legislature for making this technology available so that Utahns could continue to participate in the legislative process during a pandemic, as is our right.
Most importantly, we have a big reason to celebrate! For the first time since 2015, the Legislature passed NO anti-abortion bills! This remarkable victory for reproductive rights and health care is thanks to every person who spoke out, who talked to their legislators, who shared personal stories, who donated, and to the people working behind the scenes helping legislators understand how important it is for Utahns to have access to a full range of reproductive health care. We are grateful to each and every one of you!
We also saw a victory for contraception access with the passage of HB 102 Contraception for Inmates, sponsored by Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost and Senator Luz Escamilla. This important piece of legislation will allow for Utah jail inmates to remain on birth control while incarcerated. And although it ended up not getting funded, SB 128 Family Planning Services Amendments, sponsored by Senator Derek Kitchen and Rep. Melissa Ballard, contributed greatly to the discussion of why contraceptive access is so vital for health equity. We are grateful for these legislators’ willingness to bring awareness to these issues and look forward to more advances in contraceptive access next year.
Other victories for reproductive freedom include the passage of two bills that will help low-income Utahns with fertility treatments. HB 192 Fertility Treatment Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Ray Ward and Senator Curtis Bramble, expands Medicaid coverage for fertility preservation for people diagnosed with cancer. And SB 19 Expanded Infertility Treatment Coverage Pilot Program Amendments, sponsored by Senator Luz Escamilla and Rep. Candice Pierucci, extends a pilot program offering families on PEHP insurance seeking fertility treatment a $4,000 grant.
In even more good news, unlike many other states, Utah did not pass anti-trans youth bills! Given the composition of our Legislature, this is a true testament to Utahns exceptional commitment to dialogue, advocacy, and education, especially during this year's unusual Legislative Session. Health care decisions belong in the hands of providers and patients. All kids deserve a chance to play sports.
We recognize that, here in Utah, to advance reproductive freedom we must count the small victories with the large. That means acknowledging the small steps toward more empathy and compassion that happen by having the hard conversations about topics like race and health equity disparities, consent and sex education, and the prevalence of sexual abuse in Utah.
This year we were particularly invigorated by the conversations about consent, healthy relationships, and sex education. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss led courageous discussions about consent and sexual abuse prevention during the debates on her bill HB 177 Health Education Amendments, which came within just 8 votes of passing the House. We were also happy to see to Senator Kathleen Riebe once again sponsoring Healthy Lifestyles Amendments (SB 229). As she said during the committee hearing, it often takes hearing a bill multiple times for enough legislators to get on board for it to pass. We hope to see bills about consent and healthy relationships again next year.
Another vitally needed discussion this year was on racial equity led by Rep. Sandra Hollins who sponsored HJR 13 Joint Resolution Declaring Racism as a Moral and Public Health Crisis. After a stellar presentation in the House committee, it passed unanimously, but ultimately Rep. Hollins decided not to pursue a vote on the House floor. Although just a beginning, we know how crucial these conversations are to advancing health and race equity in Utah. For too long, we as a country and state have underinvested and under-resourced Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities — leading to less access to health care and dramatic health care disparities. We see these results loud and clear in the ravages of COVID-19: economic inequality, structural racism, and public health failures have translated to exponentially higher infection and death rates in BIPOC communities. We hope to be part of future conversations as this work continues and will wholeheartedly support Rep. Hollins if she brings this bill back next year.
To see the final outcomes of all the bills we tracked this year, please check out our bill tracker.
We hope you are proud of the work we have done this year with our small and mighty Public Affairs team and a coalition of other organizations who worked tirelessly championing not only their own bills but as reproductive freedom fighters as well. The relationships they sustained with legislators and the public made these victories possible. Last but not least, we are incredibly grateful to you, our supporters, for fighting with us. You called, you emailed, you testified in committees, you shared our social media posts and talked with your friends and family. We know you have our backs and that means the world to us. Thank you!