Even Utah Thinks GOP’s Abstinence-Only Efforts Going Too Far

Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R-UT)

Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R-UT)

In recent years, Utah has earned a reputation for being one of the reddest states in the country. Indeed, less than 35 percent of 2008 voters in the Beehive State cast their ballots for the Obama-Biden ticket. But a new poll by Brigham Young University shows even Utahans are not backing the growing “abstinence-only” push by the right-wing.

In recent weeks, the state legislature passed HB 363, a bill to prohibit Utah schools from teaching students about contraceptives and to permit school districts to skip sex education entirely. The bill passed easily in the Republican-dominated state legislature (the GOP has 22 of 29 seats in the state senate and 58 of the 75 seats in the state house). Republican Gov. Gary R. Herbert has not yet said whether he will sign the bill.

Utahans, according to the BYU poll, would prefer that he veto the measure. Of those surveyed, 58 percent said they believe “”Public schools in Utah should teach about the use of contraceptives.” Only 30 percent said they should not. Only among those identifying as “strong Republicans” was there widespread (68 percent) opposition to the idea.

Chris Karpowitz, a political science professor at the university, told the Salt Lake Tribune:

The thing that was interesting to us was such a strong majority believed public schools should teach about contraceptives… Utah is a fairly conservative place, and you might have assumed that this would have gone in the other direction.

I think it means the governor has a tough decision to make, and he has to decide whether he’s going to side with the strongest Republicans who seem to have the most opposition to this — and that’s an important group for any Republican governor in the state of Utah — or is he going to side with the larger majority that seems to support this.

Hebert’s quandary is a microcosm of the challenge the Republican Party faces nationally: appeal to a narrow but vocal base that wants to pursue a culture war against contraception and women or focus on the real struggles of working families.