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Life Choices

Anti-abortion victory at the U.S. Supreme Court breathes new life into long-simmering fights.

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In the almost-50 years since the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a woman's right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade, the issue of how, when and whether society permits a woman to terminate a pregnancy has become one of the defining fault lines in American politics.

Between the two major parties, Democratic politicians and their supporters have traditionally viewed reproductive autonomy as fundamental to women's liberty, while Republicans have cited various justifications—state sovereignty, fetal personhood, "declining" moral standards, etc.—as reasons for opposing the federal recognition of those rights.

But after the shocking reversal of the Roe precedent on June 24, 2022, by Republican-installed justices—the first time a recognized constitutional right had been withdrawn by the Supreme Court—political battle lines have both deepened and scattered.

American women—many of whom have only known a post-Roe landscape in their lifetimes—are newly facing regulations where decisions are made for them. And voters who, for decades, hid behind the oversimplified "pro-life" and "pro-choice" labels must now reconsider their political coalitions as actors on all sides scramble to react, including those hoping to capture the momentum and attack other civil rights, such as mixed-race and same-sex marriages.

In the following pages, Utahns share their viewpoints on abortion and other deeply felt topics, as well as their experiences dealing with the disagreement of family, friends and those closest to them.

Susie Augenstein: Seeking more crossover in politics. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Susie Augenstein: Seeking more crossover in politics.

Sticking Out
Susie Augenstein is a self-described "outlier" in her highly conservative family. The group mostly gets along well, she said, but "I just know when to excuse myself, which I have to do sometimes when I am the lone wolf."

There was a time when the tension got so high that Augenstein installed a signboard in her kitchen for family events. "No politics or COVID talk today," it read.

Augenstein said the past few years have seen many families become divided over the presidency of Donald Trump and issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. "In politics, it feels like you have to agree with every claim—the entire platform—to be with a party," she said. "This causes divisiveness—one party feels more compassionate, and one feels more fiscally responsible."

She wishes there was more crossover. "Shouldn't both of those things be important to all of us?"

As the adoptive mother of two Black children, Augenstein tries to be sensitive to the marginalization they face. "I taught my Black son that if he gets pulled over, to keep his hands on the wheel and not reach for his paperwork immediately," she said.

Her experience with Black children also led her to view abortion differently. "Republican women have strong feelings against abortion. But so many factors play into that decision—I would never take it away from anybody else," she said. "[And] if there are a million more babies, will everyone be there to foster and adopt them?"

Beyond race and abortion, Augenstein said her experience raising Black children has also led her toward more compassion and support for members of the LGBTQ community. "I started to review my thoughts about them and, because I didn't have an LGBTQ child, I started to wonder what it would be like if I did."

She and her husband started to volunteer at Encircle, a nonprofit support and suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth. And after six months, Augenstein said she and her husband—at the time bishop of a Latter-day Saint congregation in Riverton—started hosting church meetings with LGBTQ speakers and guests, some of whom were practicing Mormons, others not.

"We already knew their stories and felt like they could give our members different perspectives," Augenstein said. "All these situations needed to be heard so our members could understand them and show an added measure of love and support."

Today, Augenstein hosts a monthly, all-inclusive Sunday school class with Peculiar, an organization that works with LGBTQ, Latter-day Saint youth.

"So many people have faith crises," Augenstein said of the differing political views among the LDS faithful. "Sometimes it's better to leave things unsaid or talk about something else. You can make those differences your division point and lose the relationship. Or you can choose the relationship. I always choose the relationship."

Kadee Powell: Abortion is a human rights issue. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Kadee Powell: Abortion is a human rights issue.

Social and Sidewalks
Kadee Powell comes from a family with varying opinions on abortion, including those who support elective procedures in the latest stages of pregnancy. For her, she believes abortion is the most significant human rights issue of the day.

Powell advocates online for the pre-born. But growing up, Powell said she was generally on the pro-choice side of the debate. "I didn't know if I would get an abortion but, back then, I wouldn't want to tell anyone else what to do," she said.

She began researching the topic at the suggestion of a friend, and her thinking began to change. "I was looking to see what an abortion was. I had no idea that babies were ripped apart in the womb, that skulls were crushed. Babies were suctioned right out of their mother's womb."

Powell continued, "When you review fetal development, you realize [a fetus] is a living, growing thing. What I learned about abortion made me physically sick."

[Editor's note: The vast majority of abortions occur early in pregnancy and are achieved through minimally invasive procedures or, increasingly, the prescription of medication. The type of abortions described above are the exception, often necessitated by the type of life-threatening complications that more-moderate abortion bans allow exceptions for.]

Powell started sharing her thoughts on social media. Then she became involved with the advocacy group Pro-Life Utah. During the 2020 legislative session, Powell testified for SB174, Utah's "trigger law" that prohibits a pregnant woman from obtaining an abortion, with limited exceptions such as rape, incest, life of the mother and severe fetal brain abnormality. "The bill passed easily with a lot of support from legislators," Powell said. "I was super excited."

Today, Powell is the social media director for Pro-Life Utah and participates in its Sidewalk Advocates for Life network, which stages demonstrations outside of clinics. "We do it peacefully and always abide by the law," she said. "We ask [patients], do you want to come and see your baby's heartbeat? Just seeing their baby's heartbeat changes their heart with an understanding that this is a little human being they are carrying."

Powell said that Pro-Life Utah seeks to determine the crisis point for which a woman is seeking an abortion and to offer help, like helping a parent find work. She adds that the group is still in contact with the first woman who approached them. "We will help in their lives as long as they want us to," she said. "We want them to see that they can achieve their dreams and have their baby, too."

Sherilyn Gustafson brings Pride to her neighborhood, one flag at a time - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Sherilyn Gustafson brings Pride to her neighborhood, one flag at a time

Similarly Different
Hoping to adopt a child, Sherilyn Gustafson and her husband interviewed 15 birth mothers within five years. "It hurt me so much to see the pain they each were in from the idea of giving up their children," Gustafson said. "I realized that not everyone has a choice in life. And the more choices we take away from each other, the worse life gets."

The birth mothers' pain led Gustafson to a new view of abortion that differed from the one she acquired while growing up in her highly conservative family.

Today, Gustafson said she feels that abortion is necessary, an opinion she says gets her "a lot of hate" from family members and conservative friends. "I just try not to listen to them," she said.

As the mother of a cisgender daughter, a lesbian daughter and a trans son, Gustafson fears for all of her children's futures. And she worries that some of the people who pursued the repeal of Roe v. Wade will now seek to attack marriage equality.

"The possibility scares the crap out of me," Gustafson said. "My brother-in-law celebrated the reversal because now they can go after gay marriage. He told my husband directly."

Gustafson's extended family rejected a cousin when he came out as gay. "I couldn't take it. His pain was so evident," Gustafson said. "So, I completely leaned into love for him, and now he is like a brother to me."

Gustafson lives in Cedar Hills, where virtually all of her neighbors are Latter-day Saints and political conservatives. She said she, too, was once "all in" on her LDS faith—even serving a mission and marrying in the temple.

But she hasn't attended church since COVID and isn't sure when she will go back. Today, she says she tries to be an ally to kids whose parents reject them. "Kids come out to me because I am a safe space," she said.

In May 2022, six full-size Pride flags were stolen from her front yard. Next year, she plans to place 50 smaller Pride flags in a basket on her porch.

"If you want a Pride flag, come and get it," she said. "I am going to organize a Pride Week next year in Cedar Hills. There will be people who give me s--t about it. But if I help only one kid feel safer, it's worth it."

“Human life at any stage has value.” Mary Taylor, president of Pro-Life Utah - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • “Human life at any stage has value.” Mary Taylor, president of Pro-Life Utah

Switching Tracks
Adamantly pro-choice as a teenager, Mary Taylor became pregnant at age 19. And after learning of the pregnancy, she said her then-boyfriend of five years "was immediately out the door."

Taylor recalled having taken the pro-choice side in debates. Now that it was personal, her perception muddied, but she didn't want to consult her pro-life friends. "I thought they would base their decision on a religion that wasn't mine," she said. "I didn't see where they had the proof."

At 11 weeks pregnant, Taylor decided to visit Utah Women's Clinic, among the only abortion providers in the state at the time. She said the counselor there acted like Taylor was completely silly for wrestling with her decision.

"She said there was no need to worry about a clump of cells the size of a pencil point," Taylor recalled of her visit. "No way was this a human being."

But during her abortion procedure, Taylor felt like something was wrong. Post-abortion, she went into a self-destructive mode. "The heartache was unbearable," she said. "I didn't know why it had strongly impacted me."

Five years later, Taylor was pregnant with her daughter when she studied an illustrated baby book. She saw that an 11-week-old fetus—like the one she had terminated—was much more than a clump of cells. "She had little fingers and toes and was doing somersaults," Taylor said.

This new understanding brought guilt, grief and anger. "Why was I told something different?" Taylor asked. "It was a pretty traumatic experience to realize I had a baby on the way."

Taylor continued to be haunted by the realization. And when she saw disturbing undercover videos going viral that depicted Planned Parenthood officials discussing fees for human fetal tissue and organs, Taylor said her grief, anger and confusion only grew.

"I watched every minute of that. It almost sent me into a nervous breakdown," Taylor said of the 2015 controversy. "I saw a protest at Planned Parenthood and knew I had to go to it. I needed to make my voice heard. I felt a lot of fear and anxiety, but the motivation to change things was greater."

[Editor's note: The videos mentioned above were recorded under false pretenses and found to have been deceptively edited. Multiple investigations followed, finding no evidence of impropriety by Planned Parenthood.]

Taylor started attending pro-life protests regularly and became acquainted with her fellow demonstrators. That led to the creation of Pro-Life Utah, of which Taylor is currently president.

She said she met woman after woman who told stories similar to hers of pain and emotional trauma.

As time passed, her feelings and beliefs became much stronger.

"I reached the conviction that human life at any stage has value," Taylor said. "Even three days into my pregnancy, she had her own DNA."

Drew Armstrong relies on science, not  religion, to define what life is. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Drew Armstrong relies on science, not religion, to define what life is.

Science Says
Drew Armstrong's transgender son made his first effort to transition at age 3. Armstrong clearly remembers the day he found his child standing in a closet holding a pair of scissors. He asked why his child had cut off their hair and the answer was, "I want to be a boy. I want to be a prince."

Those words didn't surprise Armstrong. "He was fascinated with male gender-driven activities from the word 'go.'"

Because his child came out at such a young age, Armstrong never questioned whether his son had "chosen" to transition. And on his son's 16th birthday, Armstrong and his ex-wife hired legal counsel to have their child's name and gender marker officially changed.

At age 17, Armstrong's son underwent top surgery. But only days later, in the middle of the night, Armstrong was awakened by his son saying he needed to go to the hospital, where he received treatment for gender dysphoria.

"There was still some suicidal ideation," Armstrong said. "While transitioning helps, it doesn't make the gender dysphoria completely disappear."

Armstrong is proud to have a close enough relationship with his son that he was comfortable sharing his struggles and seeing his father as a way to get support.

Some Republican friends may say that transitioning doesn't work, or is harmful, Armstrong said. He responds that they're discussing something they've only read about, but his family lives with.

Armstrong's experiences with his son are one of several catalysts he cites for causing him to veer to the political left of the person he had been all his life before. And after meeting and becoming friends with fellow ex-conservative fathers at Pride celebrations, he was part of forming Dragon Dads, a "smaller, less organized group"—in Armstrong's words—than their counterpart Mama Dragons.

"I walk through with parents why it's important to get trans kids treatment when they are young, even if it's a little bit scary," he said. "Hormone blockers, for example—to go to a surgeon at age 17 and request a double mastectomy, you have to see an endocrinologist, be living in transition for a couple of years and have a letter from a counselor."

Armstrong knew of an 11-year-old, special-needs girl whose preteen cousin got her pregnant. The girl's family flew to California to obtain an abortion for her.

"They were fortunate, because they were wealthy enough to get on an airplane and access that. But what if they couldn't?" he said. "It makes me sad that you can't get access to an abortion in a country where we say we are not going to legislate religious morality."

Religious freedom, Armstrong said, includes freedom from religion. And he was critical of Latter-day Saints who profess a belief that the U.S. Constitution is a divinely inspired document while also attempting to impose their religious views on others.

"Muslims, religiously, believe that the soul enters the body 120 days after conception. Jews believe that you do not have a soul until the point when you are born," Armstrong said. "If we legislate a lack of choice and say [abortion] is murder—that's purely religious."

He said it makes sense to him to draw a line at the point of fetal viability—roughly 23 or 24 weeks—when a developing child can be born and survive outside the womb. And he's OK with viability being a moving target as medical technology improves.

"I'm relying on science, not on religion, to define what life is," he said.

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“There’s going to have to be a reckoning about power—power over other people’s bodies. And unfortunately, what it’s breaking down is men [having power] over women.” —Karrie Galloway
  • “There’s going to have to be a reckoning about power—power over other people’s bodies. And unfortunately, what it’s breaking down is men [having power] over women.” —Karrie Galloway

Triggered
How to get an abortion in Utah, without Roe v. Wade

You're in Utah, you're pregnant and for whatever reason, you'd like not to be. What do you do?

Even though Utah is a deep-red, pro-life state, women have access to elective abortions during the early stages of their pregnancies. But since the U.S. Supreme Court jettisoned Roe v. Wade in June, that could change. And it's damned-near impossible to predict what comes next.

For help, City Weekly reached out to Planned Parenthood Association of Utah President and CEO Karrie Galloway (who recently announced her retirement at year's end) to help us sort out this new country and state we're all living in. Our best interpretation of the law as it stands, paired with Galloway's expert insights, follow.

Is abortion legal in Utah?
Short answer: For now, yes, up to 18 weeks of fetal development.
Long answer: Utah is one of 13 states that passed a so-called "trigger law," banning virtually all abortions, in anticipation of a Republican-manipulated Supreme Court overturning decades of legal precedent. The court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health did exactly that, stripping away federal protections and giving states full authority to legislate abortion as they please.

Utah's trigger law would have taken effect immediately after the decision was announced, but Planned Parenthood and others sued the state and obtained an injunction, pausing the all-out ban while the courts consider whether or not Utah's State Constitution guarantees a right to reproductive autonomy.

But those clever lawmakers actually passed not one, but two trigger laws. The Utah court's decision to pause the zero-week ban left untouched another pre-Dobbs law moving up the state's cutoff for elective abortions to 18 weeks.

Galloway says: "It allowed the state to come in and enforce the 18-week ban, which had never been enforced before. And we are still following all of the other TRAP legislation that has been passed over the years."

What's a TRAP?
Short answer: Hurdles the state imposes to stop you from getting a legal abortion.
Long answer: TRAP stands for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, and refers to burdensome—and often medically unsound—laws that many states have adopted to squeeze abortion services out of existence prior to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

In Utah, this means that before obtaining a legal, pre-18 week, elective abortion, a patient must pass a series of steps, all overtly intended to make them abandon their efforts. Those steps include:

—Watch a mandatory, state-produced, "informational" video.

—Complete a face-to-face interview with a qualifying medical professional.

—Sign a permission slip acknowledging that they understand their choice.

—Wait 72 hours to reconsider their choice.

—Then, obtain abortion from provider, pay any related fees.

Additional steps are regularly sponsored at the Legislature. Not long ago, now-Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson led an unprecedented walkout of the state Senate's female members over a bill mandating that patients undergo and be shown an ultrasound before receiving an abortion. The bill failed.

The 72-hour waiting period, by design, imposes significant time and travel costs on patients. But technology has facilitated some steps, like viewing the mandatory video online or conducting face-to-face consultations virtually.

Galloway says: "Most people choose to do it in person, but we have made accommodations using a platform where the optics are so good that we can verify that the person is who they say they are by holding their identification up to their face and it can be determined that, yes, they are that person."

Can Planned Parenthood win its lawsuit against Utah's abortion ban?
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: Because federal law has propped up abortion rights for so long, virtually every state is now being confronted—many for the first time—with what their respective constitutions say on the subject. This can and will lead to a kaleidoscope of state-level court rulings, with some governments succeeding at criminalizing abortion while others are compelled by the judicial branch to preserve a right to choose.

But proponents of reproductive rights may have even more reason for optimism in Utah, as it was one of the last states added to the union and, thus, its constitution was written with comparatively modern sensibilities. That's why lawmakers are reportedly floating an amendment to explicitly deny abortion rights, which requires a public vote.

Galloway says: "Women actually were part of the conversation. And our prevailing religion here, at many points in its history, respected women a lot more than [lawmakers] do right now. It's coming back to bite those who want to control those bodies, because [the law] talks about freedom of agency and about equality of sexes."

What if Planned Parenthood loses?
Short answer: Very few Utahns will qualify for a legal abortion in Utah.
Long answer: If enacted, Utah's trigger law would allow exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. However, claiming those exceptions would require a poorly defined stack of police reports and other formal documentation, realistically putting the procedure out of reach for all but the most extreme cases. The few who do qualify would still be subject to the TRAP requirements listed above.

Elective abortion services would continue in other states for those who are able to travel. Colorado, notably, has taken steps to codify reproductive freedom in its laws, and Planned Parenthood operates a clinic in Glenwood Springs, a stop on Amtrak's California Zephyr rail line—which runs through Utah—or a roughly 350-mile drive east of Salt Lake City. A quick Google search suggests that a standard hotel room in Glenwood Springs costs between $100 and $200.

A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains said its clinic doors are open to any patient and that roughly half of its services are currently going to out-of-state visitors. "People need to control their own body, life and future, no matter where they live," the spokesperson said.

Still unclear is the degree to which it would be legal/illegal in Utah to obtain abortion medication through the mail using tele-health services or to fund a person's travel to and lodgings in a reproductive freedom state. But organizations are rapidly gearing up to offer workarounds to the various state and federal rules taking shape.

It should also be noted that before Roe, women's groups performed many safe, clandestine abortions, and while far from the medical ideal, versions of those groups are all but certain to operate underground in anti-abortion states.

Galloway says: "No one's really been able to figure it out because this trigger law was passed fairly capriciously, without any hearings or specifics. We, as Planned Parenthood, have engaged criminal lawyers to help us ferret out that language and unfortunately, at this point, it can only be tested in court, and I won't ask my staff to volunteer for that."

Are things going to be OK?
Galloway says: "There's going to have to be a reckoning about power—power over other people's bodies. And unfortunately, what it's breaking down is men [having power] over women. Even though not all pregnant people identify as women, in its most crass form—totally nonpolitical, non-aware, just basic form—it's men controlling women. And until we have that toe-to-toe, we're not going to go anywhere.

"Until we have equality between the sexes, with acceptance and awareness of wanting to get along together and supporting each other in our needs to live our best lives, we're just not going to be able to do it."