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Utah's Republican governor signs bill banning abortion clinics, sparing the unborn from Planned Parenthood
Photographer: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Utah's Republican governor signs bill banning abortion clinics, sparing the unborn from Planned Parenthood

Utah's Republican Gov. Spencer Cox signed a pro-life bill into law Wednesday barring abortion clinics from acquiring new licenses and banning abortions after 18 weeks in clinics altogether as of 2024.

In response, Planned Parenthood in Utah has intimated it might find a way around the bill, thereby circumnavigating the democratic will of the people of Utah.

Background

A previous law banning abortion altogether was blocked by the courts. Consequently, abortion remains legal in the state up to 18 weeks.
What this bill does is require that within that 18-week window, abortions must be performed in a hospital, with some exceptions.

Additionally, the bill prohibits licensing of abortion clinics after May 2, 2023; bans abortions at health clinics starting Jan. 1, 2024; provides that inducing or performing an abortion contrary to statutory requirements is unprofessional conduct for health care providers; prohibits the abortion of children conceived as a result of rape or incest after they have reached 18 weeks' gestational age; and "requires a physician, in the case of a diagnosis of a lethal fetal anomaly, to give notice of the availability of perinatal hospice and perinatal palliative care services as an alternative to abortion."

State Rep. Karianne Lisonbee's "Abortion Changes" bill passed in the Senate on March 2, the second to last day in the 2023 legislative session, reported the Salt Lake Tribune. It was approved by the House the next day.

Democrats tried to kill the legislation and soften its language in various ways, but KSL.com indicated that all such efforts were in vain, as the Republican-controlled Senate voted down Democrats' proposals.

The Senate Democratic caucus stated, "HB467 is effectively a ban on all abortions in the state of Utah and further restricts access to abortion by delicensing abortion clinics and forcing patients to seek care in hospital settings only."

"We in Utah have a long-standing tradition — since before statehood — of protecting the unborn by outlawing abortion," Lisbonbee said in February. "We have compassionate exemptions, and we have compassionate law and services for women who find themselves in a situation, and we as a state ought to support them in making the decision that they need to make. That's what this bill does, in a compassionate and thoughtful way."

Lisonbee underscored that her bill "strikes the very best balance of protecting innocent life and protecting women who experience rare and dangerous circumstances."

"I think we've got a great balance here that will really try and protect the innocent and protect the health of the mother," said Sen. Daniel McCay (R).

Closing the abattoirs

When asked by the Tribune earlier this month whether he had any reservations about the legislation, Gov. Cox said, "It doesn’t matter. I’ll be signing the bill."

On Wednesday, he did precisely that.

Cox characterized the bill as a "cleanup" of the state's previous trigger ban on abortion, providing those accustomed to killing unborn children with "clarity" about where the practice now stands in the state of Utah.

Karrie Galloway, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said in a statement that "Planned Parenthood Association of Utah (PPAU) is exploring all options to preserve access to abortion in Utah ahead of HB 467′s effective date on May 3."

Planned Parenthood, which runs three out of the four abortion clinics in Utah, notes on its website that the clinic "doors remain open."

The Tribune noted that when the law goes into effect, parents seeking to exterminate their unborn will have to travel six hours to Las Vegas or Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

KSL.com reported that plans for a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in West Wendover, a Nevada city bordering Utah, fell through after city officials declined to grant it a permit. Nevada, where abortion is legal up to nearly six months, requires that only licensed physicians can take a baby's life.

Brittney Nystrom, the executive director of the ACLU of Utah, suggested that her organization will similarly be looking to poke holes in the legislation.

"It’s no secret that the ACLU of Utah and others in the room today are always looking out for possible constitutional violations that are embedded in the laws that come out of this body," she told reporters. "So we will be taking a close look at laws that restrict rights and freedoms of individuals and in making decisions on whether to continue those challenges in court."

'A pro-life state'

Planned Parenthood and the Wasatch Women's Center together reportedly claimed the lives of 3,037 babies in 2019 alone.

The Utah Department of Health’s Office of Vital Records and Statistics reported in December that the "number of reported abortions is on a downward trend in Utah even though Utah's population continues to grow. In 1990, the number of abortions performed in Utah was 4,796. In 2020, the number was 2,362. Abortions for residents of Utah went from 4,159 in 1990 to 2,244 in 2020."

A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll conducted in January showed that 46% of Utahns say abortion should only be legal in cases of rape, incest, or threats to the health of the mother. Only 18% of respondents suggested that abortion should be legal in all cases.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said of the poll results, "We’re definitely a pro-life state. ... The majority of the people don’t support abortion. They support the exceptions but they don’t support abortion itself."

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