Six Female Utah Senators Walked Out on An Anti-Abortion Bill Vote

Supermajority Education Fund

March 19, 2020

Last Tuesday, six female senators in Utah — the only women in the Senate — walked out of a vote on a bill that mandates that people seeking abortions in the state are shown an ultrasound of their fetus first. The pregnant person would also be forced to hear the fetal heartbeat during the ultrasound. Despite the senators’ refusal to vote, the bill still passed with a vote of 16-7. Only five Republican men voted against the measure, meaning the votes from the six senators—four Democrats and two Republicans—who abstained would not have tipped the scales in the other direction. 

Democratic Senators Jani Iwamoto, Karen Mayne, Luz Escamilla, and Kathleen Riebe were joined by Republican senators Ann Millner and Deirdre Henderson. Before walking out on the vote, Sen. Henderson successfully added an addendum to the bill that would prohibit a “transvaginal ultrasound,” which she called “incredibly invasive,” per The New York Times

Lauren Simpson, policy director at Alliance for a Better Utah, told Supermajority News that it was very powerful that every senator who took part in the walkout testified against the bill. She said that in addition to Republicans, the group also included Democrats who don’t usually speak up about reproductive rights, even if they have a record of voting against anti-abortion bills. 

“The two Republican senators who walked out have strong track records of supporting anti-abortion bills, so it really made a statement that this mandatory ultrasound bill was a bridge too far,” Simpson said. “The walkout sent a strong message about the waning appetite for anti-abortion bills in the Legislature. I think the lawmakers pushing that agenda overplayed their hand this session.”

The issue of abortion is a polarizing one between Utah residents and their legislators, Simpson said. Utah is one of several states last year that passed a comprehensive ban on abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which some believe seems likely. February results from a poll conducted by Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, the Alliance for a Better Utah, and the ACLU of Utah shows that 80 percent of Utahns think that the state doesn’t need any further restrictions on abortion. Simpson said lawmakers continue to introduce these bills anyway, but their voters might not stand for it anymore. 

“I think Republicans in Utah are tired of using anti-abortion policies as a brand or a re-election messaging tool,” Simpson said. “I don’t think taking away people’s fundamental rights is what they want to be known for. Utahns value family, freedom, and personal agency. State lawmakers still have a lot of ground to cover to catch up to how voters feel about reproductive rights, but I am hopeful that the political appetite for these extreme policies is finally tapering off.”