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Donna Kelley: Dobbs from the Perspective of a Former SVU Prosecutor

Donna Kelley | Published on 7/25/2022

The rug of bodily autonomy has been ripped out from under all American women, who have recently been told by Supreme Court Justices that their right to bodily autonomy is no longer protected by the United States Constitution.

My perspective is different from most citizens because of my profession. For more than 30 years I served as a Special Victims Unit prosecutor. I retired last fall. The bulk of the crimes I prosecuted were violent sexual assaults. The last several nights since the Dobbs decision I have tossed and turned at night fearful of the devastation this decision will bring to the lives of many women and especially many victims.

Allow me to share just one example of the hundreds I could cite.

In one case a woman had been dating a man who had become increasingly violent during their relationship. He threatened her daughters with sexual acts, saying that he needed “younger meat.” He also threatened that if she left him, he would kill both her and her daughters. She summoned the courage to leave him and then found out that she was pregnant.

If she were forced to continue the pregnancy and the fetus had developed into a child, she would be trapped in a hellish nightmare that would last for a minimum of 18 years. She could not place the child for adoption because of his parental rights to claim the child. She would have to give the child to this violent individual. Or, if she kept the child she would be forever terrorized by this man for things like visitation of the child. And what about the child? This child would almost certainly be beaten and sexually assaulted.

The new Utah “trigger law” would be the cause of this woman’s and child’s torturous life.

The new Utah law allows for abortions under certain circumstances. That means the law is conceding that abortion is not murder. If it were murder, abortion should never be allowed under any circumstance. But here is the key point: if conservative Utah legislators get to decide a set of circumstances under which an abortion is allowable, shouldn’t a woman be allowed to decide when an abortion is a choice for herself?

A choice to have an abortion is not like a choice to have a party or take a vacation. A choice to have an abortion is like a choice that a trapped wild animal makes to chew off its own leg to save its life. No woman ever says “Oh, goodie! I get to have an abortion!” It is always a hard, gut-wrenching and difficult thing that is almost always a choice between two bad things. Yet each woman must have the ability to determine her own fate, her own destiny, her own life.

In a state that prizes religious freedom, it is shocking to see that one group’s religious decision about when life begins will now be forced upon all other Utah citizens. Where is the religious freedom for all those other Utah citizens? There is no factual or scientific information about when a spirit enters a fetus and then becomes a child. It is a purely emotional, individual or religious issue. Brigham Young, Utah’s first governor, opined that the spirit enters the body of a fetus shortly before birth. But that is just his opinion.

If your religion or your own beliefs say that abortion is wrong, then don’t have one. No one should be able to force you to have one. And the reverse should also be true.

Author, Donna Kelly recently retired as a Special Victims Unit prosecutor in Utah after 30 years of service.

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