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SALT LAKE CITY — As the Utah Department of Health prepares to end its contract with local Planned Parenthood, the organization is bringing in new help to advocate for the agency in its efforts to maintain funding.
Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer and founder of the group Ordain Women, said she has spent the past year supporting sexual violence legislation in Somalia. She has been hired to work in strategic advocacy and bring policy counsel to the Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah.
Kelly is stepping in to muster support for the organization even as Utah leaders are attempting to defund it at state and federal levels. Calls to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood have sounded nationwide after secretly recorded footage was leaked showing officials bargaining over the price of aborted fetal tissue.
Federal funds were awarded to Planned Parenthood Association of Utah to provide two sex education programs, chlamydia and gonorrhea testing, and to improve STD reporting. Those funds are expected to be cut off starting Oct. 1, the start of the organization's fiscal year, at the direction of Gov. Gary Herbert who last month instructed state agencies to stop distributing the funds.
Herbert said in the days following his announcement that his funding decision is not anti-women's health: "Let me emphasize, we really do care about women's health," Herbert said. "The idea that women's health will be shortchanged in this process is not accurate," noting there are other sources for reproductive health.
Kelly said she was working in the U.S. temporarily with plans to return to Somalia when she learned of the governor's action. She spotted a job listing on the organization's website and applied for the position.
Since Herbert's announcement, Utah Sen. Mike Lee has pledged to fight any federal budget that includes Planned Parenthood. Rep. Mia Love has voiced opposition to Planned Parenthood funding, but not at the cost of shutting down the federal government.
In her first week on the job, Kelly has been organizing a local rally in support of Planned Parenthood to take place Sept. 29 in conjunction with national demonstrations. She said she will also be working on policy for the organization, reaching out to policymakers across the state and lobbying the Utah Legislature.
"Taking this funding away from Planned Parenthood is not only unfair, it puts a lot of women and people who use these services in jeopardy," said Kelly, who took the post Monday. "I think that one thing we can agree on is we want to prevent unwanted pregnancy, we want to support women, and that we want health care to be available, especially to the people who are most in need."
I think that one thing we can agree on is we want to prevent unwanted pregnancy, we want to support women, and that we want health care to be available, especially to the people who are most in need.
Utah Planned Parenthood is considering all possible options to preserve funding, including the possibility of a legal response, Kelly said. Any potential legal action would be handled by local attorneys or national Planned Parenthood Federation attorneys, Kelly noted, as she is currently licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia with plans to take the Utah Bar exam in February.
Kelly is known in Utah for her organizing role with Ordain Women, an activist group that has called for priesthood ordination for female members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Kelly was excommunicated from the faith and has since stepped down from her role in Ordain Women.
The position with Planned Parenthood combines the community organizing efforts that Utahns know well, she said, supported by the legal and scholarly background they may be less familiar with.
"It makes sense for me to use my experience and my background and my skills to fight for women, because that's what I've been doing my whole life," Kelly said. "For me, it's a wonderful fit."