Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft Blocking Missourians' Constitutional Rights

An Op Ed I wrote is in the St. Louis Post Dispatch today, discussing Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s unconstitutional delays making it impossible for Missourian’s to gather enough signatures to put abortion on the ballot, and let people vote on the issue.

The extreme abortion bill (House Bill 126) becomes effective next week,. It bans abortion after eight weeks with no exceptions for survivors of rape or incest, and certainly no exceptions for fetal anomalies like Grace’s. It’s utterly outrageous, and transparently shows that they want to control pregnant people, and want this to go to the Supreme Court.

I don’t know if I can express how hard it has been to watch our rights eroding around us after having our own abortion. We feel so strongly that we made the right decision for our desperately wanted daughter. Yet our lawmakers don’t care.

Jim and I repeatedly have testified both via correspondence and in person against bans like this, and our lawmakers don’t listen. They passed it anyway, despite us telling them what a horrible bill it is and how it’d hurt babies like Grace Pearl.

So we turned to the constitutional process next: Governor Parsons signing the bill into the law wasn’t the end: Missouri’s Constitution guarantees citizens the right to stop a new law from taking effect through the referendum process — a vote of the people. On May 28, the referendum process began. Under the Missouri Constitution, we should have had 90 days to collect 100,000 signatures in six different congressional districts. That isn’t what happened. Why? Because Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft chose to abuse the power of his office and join the race to ban safe, legal abortion in our state.

It is utterly unacceptable that Ashcroft is using his position to block the will of the people. His behavior is outrageous, manipulative and unconstitutional. Missourians deserve better, no matter where they stand on abortion. This is about protecting our constitutional rights.

You can read the full Op Ed here:

Robin Utz: Ashcroft's delay tactics defy Missourians' right to challenge abortion law

My husband Jim and I have been married for nine years, and we have wanted a baby more than anything. After four years of trying to conceive, including two rounds of in-vitro fertilization, three embryo transfers, a miscarriage and looking extensively into adoption, we finally got pregnant with our daughter, Grace Pearl.

BBC Newshour Interview on Missouri Abortion Ban - Listen Here

I posted a link to my BBC Newshour interview about Missouri’s 8 week abortion ban, noting it was at the 37:30 mark. It is now available to listen to directly here.

Please listen and share - it provides a great context on what the 8 week abortion ban means for Missourians and the overall goal of bans such as these.

Parents Magazine Covers Full Impact of Abortion Bans, Including Our Story

I have often said that Jim and I were lucky in the most heartbreaking experience of our lives: we had close access to excellent medical care, had good jobs, health insurance, and other elements of privilege protecting us. This article from Parents Magazine covers our story and how it will be impacted by the abortion bans here in Missouri, and likewise in Alabama, Georgia, etc., as well as how those far less fortunate than us will be affected. Please read and consider.

What New Abortion Laws Mean for Moms, Pregnant Women, and Women Who Want to Get Pregnant

Restrictive abortion laws in states across the South and Midwest threaten your right to choose. Here's what they mean for women considering parenthood. May 23, 2019 Robin Utz learned in November of 2016 that there was something wrong with her second-trimester pregnancy.

A Midterms Voting Guide with Grace Pearl In Mind

Photo by  Parker Johnson  on  Unsplash

I have pulled together a voter guide for the upcoming midterms on November 6, 2018 that would focus on candidates and issues that would allow us the best possible rights to make the choice we did with Grace Pearl. I am focusing in Missouri because that is where I am most familiar with the candidates and issues, but for wherever you are, I ask that you take reproductive rights into account when choosing a candidate, and how much the individual will do to protect rights of families like mine.

People run into situations like mine every day, in every state. We deserve to be able to make the best choices for ourselves and our families without undue burden in terms of cost, geographical restriction, and time frame. If you vote for a candidate that is against reproductive rights, know you are voting to hurt babies like Grace and women and men like myself and Jim. There’s no way around that.

I’ll take this chance to say we also deserve honest, comprehensive medical care, not places that will blatantly lie to us like Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Please learn more about them here.

Important Voting Information:

The Missouri ballot is huge for the midterms, so I will only be listing out the things I’m best educated on, and then resources for the other issues.

✔️ Polling places will be open from 6 am until 7 pm
✔️ If you are unsure of your polling place, you can look it up here: https://bit.ly/2fg5NRR
✔️ You will be required to show a form of ID at the polls. See acceptable forms of ID here: https://bit.ly/2OdbZba

DO NOT LEAVE A POLLING PLACE WITHOUT VOTING —call this non partisan election hotline (1-866-OUR-VOTE) if you have any voting issues.

Now to the voter guide resources:

I’m going to go over my own personal recommendations, where I have them, in the next section. However I just don’t know enough about every issue to make an educated assessment, especially when the ballot is this long. So here’s what I do/resources I use:

  • The League of Women Voters has a great resource at vote411.org. You type in your address & get a personalized ballot with info on each candidate/issue. I go through this list and select each item, and print it off at the end to take with me to vote. PRINT IT OFF OR WRITE IT DOWN in case you can’t look at your phone while voting. Many places ban phones in the polling area.

  • For issues where I do not have an established opinion yet, I have trusted sources I use. They include:

    • ProgressWomen - Representative Stacey Newman puts a LOT of effort into her recommendations, and I value her opinion. She has also covered all Missouri AND county propositions, so this is a comprehensive resource.

    • Planned Parenthood MO voting guide - Planned Parenthood has protections of reproductive rights at top of mind, and this voting guide is consistent with that.

    • NARAL voting guide - they likewise carefully vet for pro-choice candidates and issues.

  • You can see the Missouri Bar recommendations for each judge on the ballot on vote411 while you’re selecting the rest of your ballot. It will tell you each judge and their recommendation, and you can research more from there. There are a few that are not recommended for retention.

My Personal Recommendations/Endorsements:

  • US Senator: Claire McCaskill. I am with many people in feeling that I wish McCaskill were different in some ways, but she has a solid voting record in terms of reproductive rights, and that means a lot to me. Additionally, I am terrified of what electing Josh Hawley would do to all sorts of social rights, including reproductive rights, and he is currently promising that pre-existing conditions will be protected as part of healthcare while entering Missouri into a lawsuit to undo the Affordable Care Act (which would undo the protections of pre-existing conditions). He’s blatantly lying to us.

  • U.S. Representative, District 2: Cort VanOstran. I actually am not able to vote for Cort as I am not in his district, but I have still spend many volunteer hours pushing out awareness around him and encouraging people to vote for him because his incumbent oppoent, Ann Wagner, is THAT BAD. She’s pro-life all the way down the line, and would absolutely vote to hurt Grace, Jim and myself. Cort is endorsed by NARAL and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which goes a long way with me. These organizations support our right to make the choice we did, and fight for laws that protect us.

  • State Auditor: Nicole Galloway. I saw Nicole speak at an event and was very impressed by her. She has done this job since 2015 and has done an outstanding job, as reiterated by the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

  • State Representative, District 91: If you are in Sarah Unsicker’s district, I recommend her as a representative that is on the Children and Families House Committee and has fought for reproductive Rights

  • State Representative, District 80: If you are Peter Meredith’s district, I recommend voting for him. I find him to be thoughtful, transparent, hard fighting and compassionate. He was hoping to propose a bill last year that would include infertility treatments in insurance coverage, which would be transformative for families like mine.

  • Amendment #1 (aka CLEAN MISSOURI) = VOTE YES. I have personally worked on this campaign because I believe SO STRONGLY in it. It bans lobbyist gifts to General Assembly, requires open legislative records, lowers campaign contributions & limits committee donations, requires 2 year lobbyist waiting periods and ensures a non-partisan district map process (aka, limits gerrymandering, making sure our votes matter more). This is super important. VOTE YES. If you vote for nothing else, vote for this one. But vote for everything.  More info at CleanMissouri.org 

  • YES on Proposition B – Increases the Minimum Wage to $12 by 2023. St. Louis Post Dispatch endorsement HERE. There are a lot of reasons that I agree with this, but in terms of reproductive rights, if you’re not aware, the Hyde Amendment prevents abortions from being covered by federal funds. If we want women to be able to exercise their reproductive rights asap in an unwanted pregnancy, they have to have the funds to do so. Economic equality is very important to me.

These are the issues that I am most comfortable making endorsements on, and I’m always learning more so if you feel I’m wrong about any of them, please reach out!

NPR 1A: Our Story Will Be Featured Tomorrow, Thursday, May 17

Our story of learning about Grace Pearl's fatal fetal anomaly, our decision to terminate the pregnancy, and how it felt to be put through Missouri's abortion laws will be featured on NPR's 1A program tomorrow, Thursday, May 17th. You can learn more about the program here: 

Could Abortion Become Illegal In The U.S.? - 1A

New restrictions in some conservative states are urging a high court battle over a woman's right to an abortion.

1A is broadcast live at 10 am ET. Check with your local affiliate for when it will air there. In St. Louis, I believe it airs live.

The Day After We Learned about Grace's Disease: Missouri's Abortion Consents and Informed Consent Packet

I wrote last week on the anniversary of learning that Grace had a life-ending disease, discussing how the day unfolded and felt along the way. It was an enormous blow and shock to the system. Little did I know the amount of insult was going to be added to our devastating injury in the form of the process the state of Missouri imposes on women and families that want or need to terminate pregnancies. 

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I had been given hints about what was to come during our anatomy scan and subsequent discussion with our doctor, and then the follow up high-tech ultrasound to confirm Grace's diagnosis. There was talk about how we, at 20 weeks, 6 days pregnant, did not have a lot of time to make a decision about how to proceed. When we were called about scheduling time to come sign the consent forms, I was told we would have to try to sign them the next day because of the 72 hour waiting period, and that if we couldn't get that performed by by 21 weeks, 6 days (including the 72 hours), we'd have to go out of state to have the abortion. I was told we were lucky to be in St. Louis, home of the state's only abortion clinic (at Planned Parenthood). All of this stunned me and left me feeling misunderstood, unsupported and worst of all, judged. We had just learned our very wanted daughter would never get to live the life we'd dreamed of for her. Now we just wanted to get the necessary next steps over with as quickly as possible. The limitations and requirements felt hurtful and inappropriate to me, at a time when I was already deeply steeped in grief. I kept asking if there were exceptions for people like us: people that wanted their pregnancy but learned it would never result in a happy, healthy child, and that instead our child would die a painful, suffering death. To be informed over and over that there weren't exceptions told me that our lawmakers clearly hadn't thought the laws through well.  As I considered that unavoidable reality, I also considered how I would feel if I needed or wanted an abortion for other reasons, like an abusive partner, failed birth control and so on. I felt more and more like if the laws missed the mark on us, they'd missed the mark on so many other scenarios as well, and that therefore the requirements weren't appropriate for anyone.

As a privileged woman of reasonable means, learning about the ridiculous process required of us to do what was humane for our daughter was kind of like when you first learn that adults aren't always mature, kind or right after growing up depending on that as a fact. How much my privilege was still helping me in our terrible situation washed over me, leaving me heartbroken, indignant and shocked over and over. What about women in rural areas (100+ miles away) who needed the time and money to get to St. Louis or another state for the abortion? What about women who already had children and couldn't find childcare as soon as they needed to to sign the consents to meet the 72 hour waiting period and get the termination before time ran out? Anatomy scans happen between 18 and 22 weeks, so this isn't implausible in the least. We also were lucky to have jobs that accommodated our last minute scheduling needs, but many are not nearly as lucky. The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funds from funding abortions, so it's exceedingly expensive at our stage of pregnancy ($1500 at Planned Parenthood, $8000 at a hospital, which is highly recommended at our stage of pregnancy because it is risky for me as the mother). Who can afford that at such short notice? I was blown away at learning this is how it really is to get an abortion in Missouri. 

That is how much I knew going into signing the actual consents to start the 72 hour clock and schedule our procedure. I had no idea how insulting the consents themselves would be. If the requirements I had encountered so far (geographical limitations, 72 hour waiting period, likely lack of insurance coverage, deadline that contradicted the recommended timeline of the anatomy scan guidelines per my doctor) were tone deaf to our situation, the consents and information we were given were downright callous and insulting.

When Jim and I arrived to sign the consents, we were met quickly by a doctor who, before reviewing the materials with us, warned us that she would have to guide us through some very difficult paperwork, but that it did no reflect how she, the doctor assigned to our case, felt about us at all. I quickly realized and confirmed that this was legally required paperwork, NOT medically required paperwork. I grew cautious and reserved, preparing myself for the worst. The state of Missouri delivered: we had to initial every line of this consent form 

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If you're reading this, feeling perhaps like it's appropriate, please consider the following: we were reeling from learning our intensely wanted daughter was going to die a painful, frightening death upon birth, if she made it that far. The care and support we encountered after learning that was being required to sign a consent saying I had seen an ultrasound and have heard a heartbeat. Imagine for a second how you'd feel in that situation. I was nearly 6 months pregnant. I had requested extra ultrasounds and had a home Doppler to check for Grace's heart beat every few days because I was so nervous after nearly 4 years of infertility and a prior miscarriage. This confirmation requirement was ridiculous, insulting and hurtful. Then I'm being told about Grace's anatomical and physiological features by a legal consent form instead of by my medical staff, as if I'm unaware. The doctor that just the day prior had given us an hour long ultrasound, detailing every feature. Would we allow this in our other medical decisions? Did they really think I needed education or reminding? I didn't need a government issued document to do this for me, especially when it included inaccurate information (more about that in a minute).

I couldn't believe I had to sign such an obviously biased and manipulative document (which highlighted all of the risks of having the abortion, but none of the higher risks of continuing the pregnancy, such as the very real risk to a woman's health), especially when my impending medical consents would cover everything necessary, and more importantly, were written using informed medical opinion and facts. The consent form lit me with indignation, outrage and defeat.

We had to take several breaks to process what we were having to sign. The layers of how openly against us our laws were kept washing over me. I have lived in Missouri all of my life. I have paid taxes here, voted in every election I can, volunteered here, defended it to people that want to call it backwards and ignorant. And here I was, a life-long citizen, being told I was less than a full human deserving of basic decency, bodily autonomy and incapable of making up my own mind about my pregnancy, because I had gotten pregnant. What a catch-22. I was deemed adult enough to be Grace's mother, but not to spare her an inevitable painful death. I wondered again if men would tolerate being treated this way. 

When we were done with the consents form, we were given the Informed Consent Packet:

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This is 36 glossy pages of tax-payer funded "education" on the fetus, carefully detailed (yet sometimes inaccurately) by gestational age before getting into the risks of abortion while ignoring the risks of continuing pregnancy (which are far greater than those associated with terminating a pregnancy (pages 13-15)). It inaccurately stated that fetuses start to feel pain at 22 weeks, while every doctor we talked to said 24-28. The packet is just as loaded with judgmental notes, starting with the first page where it notes: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.” This is of great debate, so I was angered that it was stated as fact, with utter disregard for the medical community's findings and opinions in regards to this. I didn't like that political opinions were being fed to me in my time of needing a medical procedure. And I wondered: what were we supposed to do? Say the packet succeeded in making me feel guilty and I wanted to change my mind. What was I supposed to do with that feeling? Not end our pregnancy? The information in the packet wasn't going to make Grace's disease go away, and all it did was make me feel disregarded, insulted, judged and utterly misunderstood. It felt like kicking us when we were down.

I asked if we had to take the packet with us, and were told no. Jim asked how many people had taken it with them and the doctor said the last one was probably taken 3 months ago. That told me a lot about how firm people felt once they made the appointment, and how much of a difference this packet likely made in the minds of the women it was designed to affect.

I felt terrible for our doctor, clearly there to provide me with great medical care, being required to give us this inaccurate information, designed to manipulate me. She never failed to be supportive and compassionate with us throughout the entire process. 

We left the clinic to start our 72 hours of waiting, with the wound of our daughter's news still so new that it was increasing and spreading rather than being anywhere close to starting to heal. We added to it fury, disgust, helplessness and deep sadness at how we were treated by the state of Missouri, and how other women and families are treated. Do we not care about the psychological impact on our women over unborn fetuses? I never really got that concept so fully until then. 

Anyone close to me would tell you I'm a different person now than I was before we lost Grace. Having to choose to end our pregnancy was life changing and devastating, but being treated like ignorant, flippant, uninformed parents by the state of Missouri changed me just as much. It ignited an anger and sadness in me that has been just as difficult to cope with, and spurned me into advocacy and this website. It has not been fun to expose myself in this way, as we have grieved, and to sometimes meet condemnation for our choice. But that's how desperately and strongly I feel about our experience. I never want another family to have to go through such an awful process ever again. I'm just one person, but I'll do what I can to try to make it better for as long as I can. 

If our story filled you with the same feelings I've described, please consider sharing. The more people know about this reality, the closer we'll get to implementing real change. People need to know what the people they're voting for are doing, how badly written the laws are (and continue to be) and how it affects real families.