Utah’s paternal price tag
State to require fathers to pay half of pregnancy costs
After her infant son died in 2018, Utah resident Nikki Foxx decided she’d never have more children. Her new boyfriend didn’t want more kids, either. But when she became pregnant in 2019, Foxx was even more sure about something else: She didn’t want an abortion. A decade earlier, she had an abortion in Portland, Ore., at age 19, and it “ruined” her mentally, she said: “I couldn’t do it again.” But the father wanted her to abort and offered to pay for it.
“Because I was living with him and I had no financial income at all, I was completely reliant on him,” Foxx said. “I felt like I was forced to have an abortion … because I didn’t know how I was going to take care of my child without his support.”
He took Foxx to Planned Parenthood and paid for the required class where staff describe what to expect. Even though she had an abortion before, it wasn’t until that class that Foxx understood how the procedure worked. She remembers descriptions of breaking the baby’s bones and sucking it out.
By the end of the class, she felt sick and knew she couldn’t abort the baby, no matter what the father said. Foxx gave birth to her daughter in March 2020 and, with the help of Pro-Life Utah, moved into her own place. Today, Foxx said she is still about $12,000 in debt from pregnancy-related medical bills, and the father has only recently started showing interest in being involved in his daughter’s life.
Thanks to a new law that goes into effect next month, biological fathers in Utah will now have to pay half of pregnancy- and birth-related medical costs. The law could prompt men take more responsibility for their children and remove some of the financial burden from women like Foxx. But she and others also expressed concerns that requiring money from fathers could give reluctant dads an even bigger reason not to want a child.
Once she decided to keep the baby, Foxx didn’t tell the father because she wasn’t sure how he would react. She had heard stories of women ending up dead because the man didn’t want the baby. When her boyfriend brought Foxx to the hospital for her scheduled Cesarean section, he thought he was dropping her off for a late-term abortion procedure.
She worries putting more financial burden on the father could give certain men more reason to react violently. In her situation, the father already said he couldn’t afford the baby, so requiring his financial support would have given him more reason to pressure Foxx into an abortion. But that’s a worst-case scenario. She still saw the split financial costs as a major benefit: “I think it would have helped so much because here I am struggling to pay my bills, and he’s buying new cars.”
Bryonna Jones, another Utah woman who faced similar circumstances as a 27-year-old in 2016, called her pregnancy-related medical bills “a continuous and constant financial blow.” She recognized how having financial support would help some women in tough situations feel more empowered to have the child. Her concerns about the legislation were similar to Foxx’s: “I worry that it will inadvertently … put pressure, more pressure, on the women that don’t necessarily want a termination.”
“There is no one-size-fits-all legislation,” said Mary Taylor, president of Pro-Life Utah, one of the groups that supported the bill. She recognized that, for some women, having the man pay half the costs won’t solve their problems. But she also pointed to 2018 statistics showing more than 55 percent of all 2,895 abortions in Utah were for socio-economic reasons while only 39 percent were elective. “Women don’t choose abortion because they want abortion, more often than not,” she said. “They choose abortion because they feel like they don’t have other choices. So this is a huge piece of that puzzle to provide women with support so that they can make a different choice.”
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, signed the bill on March 16. It is set to take effect in May. Other states, including Wisconsin and New York, provide legal pathways toward requiring fathers to help cover pregnancy costs, but Utah appears to be the first to mandate it directly, according to the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Brady Brammer.
The law is an encouraging development for some financially strained mothers, but it’s a sign of deeper problems in the country. “The idea of making men realize that they are equal parties is really powerful,” Jones said. “But it hurts my heart because it should be a natural thing. … The law itself … shouldn’t have to be in existence.”
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