Trigger Warning: This article contains information about rape, sexual assault, and incest. If you or someone you know needs help, call the Rape & Sexual Assault Crisis Line 1-888-421-1100.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Utah’s abortion law is not enough, according to Rep. Kera Birkeland (R-Morgan). She introduced a bill last week that would increase restrictions on abortion availability, and her sister, a sexual assault survivor, is opposing her.
“Based on her treatment of me, a rape survivor, and her sister, I believe it is safe to say that Kera doesn’t care about protecting rape survivors,” said Samantha Hansen in a Facebook post.
However, Birkeland said she is an advocate for victims of sexual assault. “I know their pain personally. I want to also hold the offenders accountable,” Birkeland said.
The most controversial part of Birkeland’s Victim Services Amendments bill is that abortion would be banned at any point in the pregnancy unless under certain circumstances. Those circumstances include cases of rape, incest, risk of death for the mother, severe risk of impairment for the mother, lethal defects for the child, or severe brain abnormalities for the child.
Another controversial part of Birkeland’s proposed bill is that it shortens the timeline to 18 weeks for rape and incest victims receiving abortions, and it pushes for stricter verification. These proposals are stricter than the current code, and even Utah’s trigger law, which has been put on hold by the courts.
Hansen opposes the proposed bill and said it took her over a year to file a police report of her own rape.
“Speaking as a woman who was raped and mentally could not handle the idea of reporting for over a year, a woman’s brain is not logical in the aftermath of such a horrible crime,” Hansen said, ”and I fear for the decisions that will be made out of desperation.”
Birkeland said that she understands how hard it is to come forward currently and wants to change this so that perpetrators can be held accountable. She wants to train law enforcement on handling these cases and believes this will help victims come forward.
“How many reports have been made to law enforcement versus how many are actually prosecuted — I want to actually see if we are holding rapists accountable,” Birkeland said.
However, Hansen disagrees with her plans.
“Her entire premise of holding rapists accountable through this legislation is, at best, flawed,” Hansen said. “Women do not report for a variety of reasons including fear. It’s estimated 90% of victims know their rapist personally, and the fact that if she does report and it goes to court, not only will she be re-victimized and face character assassination, but justice will not be served.”
Birkeland’s new bill, HB297, if passed, includes access to free emergency contraceptives for 72 hours after sexual assaults, rape, or incest, as well as free counseling for rape or incest victims. It also includes healthcare coverage during pregnancy, and for the first year of the baby’s life.
“We don’t give them enough support throughout the process. We should give more resources to victims,” Birkeland said. “No one should have to go through that alone.”
When asked what she thought of her sister’s reaction to her bill, Birkeland said, “I don’t want this family drama to cover up the importance of help for victims out there more than anything else.”