The Abortion Legislative Task Force was urged Wednesday not to recommend a bill proposed by a national right-to-life group - the same bill that was recently vetoed in Idaho by Gov. Cecil Andrus.
The task force heard testimony from five people in a pro-choice coalition. They outined problems with the proposed bill and made suggestions for abortion legislation during a three-hour session at the task force's monthly meeting. All five said if the proposed bill were implemented, Utah would face an expensive legal battle, and the bill would probably be declared unconstitutional.The abortion task force is a 14-member group made up of nine state representatives and five senators which has been assigned to examine the possible ramifications of legislation to eliminate "birth-control abortions." They will present their findings to the Legislature in 1991.
The bill being promoted by the National Right to Life Committee, is an effort to limit what it calls "one especially deplorable category of abortion, those performed solely as a method of birth control." It defines an illegal abortion as "use or prescription of any instrument, medicine, drug or any other substance or device to terminate the pregnancy . . . with an intention other than to increase the probability of a live birth, to preserve the life or health of the child after live birth or to remove a dead unborn child."
An abortion would only be allowed under this statute when a physician determines the life of the mother would be endangered or severe and long-lasting physical health damage to the mother would be a result of carrying the unborn child full-term; instances of rape (not including statutory rape); incest and when the child would be born with "profound and irremedial physical or mental disabilities."
Deborah Threedy, a University of Utah law professor, said the bill attempts to draw a line between "good" and "bad" abortions. She told the task force a fetus created by rape or incest is just as innocent as any other unwanted child. Therefore, she said, she thinks this statute must really be an effort to punish women who did not use proper methods of pregnancy prevention when engaging in sexual intercourse. If this is the case, she said, the statute fails because statistics show 51.3 percent of all women who seek abortions were using some form of birth control in the month of conception. Until birth control is 100 percent effective, she said, this statute would not be upheld by the Supreme Court. She also said, under the bill's definition, an illegal abortion could include use of an IUD and other similar abortive devices used as birth control.
"The idea of trying to draw a distinction between a good and a bad abortion as done by this statute fails," Threedy said. "It fails because if you're going to draw a distinction in abortions you'd have to do it with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel, and this statute uses a meat cleaver.
Michele Parish-Pixler, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Utah Chapter, said she recognizes abortions are not something anyone wants to do, but an individual should have that right if faced with an unwanted pregnancy.
"Nobody says `lets go out and have an abortion tonight,' " Pixler said.
Pixler told the task force the Legislature really needs to make an entire change in the availability of contraception to teenagers and sex education. It may be hard to believe, she said, but teenagers are desperate for information about sexuality and contraception and really do not know where to go to get information.
Pixler said if the bill passed in Utah, it would be challenged by ACLU, either the Utah division or the national reproductive unit.
Grant Bagley, representing RAN corporation as a consultant (RAN is a think-tank operation which analyzes public policy issues including health policy planning analysis) also suggested the statute not be adopted as proposed.
He suggested legislative changes be made to the current abortion law including:
-A requirement that all abortions be performed in state licensed facilities such as those required in second trimester abortions. The licensure would be accomplished in accordance with the Health Care Facilities Licensure Act.
-Establish a professional licensure for pregnancy counselors with all areas defined.
-Increase educational efforts in areas of morality, sex education, sexual health and reproductive health.
-Expand Medicaid eligibility to eliminate the need to seek an abortion when limited or non-existant access to necessary medical care creates a barrier to continued pregnancy.
Bagley also said making "birth control" abortions illegal would just increase the number of abortions in the state. He said illegal abortions are cheaper and lower-income women cannot afford to go out of state for the abortion. They would be more likely to get a cheaper illegal abortion.
He also suggested the cost of birth control be reduced to match the approximate $265 cost of an abortion.
Two other women, Mary Woodhead, National Organization of Women, and Dr. Susan Olsen, professor in political science at University of Utah also addressed the task force. Woodhead said as a citizen she thought the proposed bill was "appalling." She said she would like the Legislature to make public funding of abortions an issue.
Woodhead mentioned an abortion bill recently passed in Louisiana which is stricter than the proposed bill. She said Utah should not adopt a strict bill until it sees what happens with Louisiana.
Through her studies of the Supreme Court justices, Olsen said the proposed bill goes substantially beyond what Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will accept and she believes O'Connor has shown herself to be the deciding factor in abortion issues.