With the publication last weekend by the ACLU of an advertisement in the New York Times attacking the Utah Legislature and Gov. Norm Bangerter for passing the new, tough abortion law, the fears of some Utahns were realized: Bad publicity for Utah.
First off, the ACLU was way off base in its advertisement, which said Utah has the death penalty for women who have illegal abortions. It doesn't.The new abortion law specifically states that no woman would even be prosecuted for getting an illegal abortion. The new law - which won't take effect until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on its constitutionality, something the ACLU also knows - does carry criminal penalties for anyone who performs the illegal abortion. But not the woman having the abortion.
The law questioned in the advertisement is a 1983 amendment to the homicide statutes, which, some have interpreted to say, extends the death penalty to women who have illegal abortions. But, according to Bangerter's chief of staff Bud Scruggs, who himself is an attorney, that 1983 law doesn't apply since the 1991 new abortion law - which specifically says women aren't criminally liable for illegal abortions - takes precedence.
But this argument isn't really about the technicality of laws, anyway.
It's about image.
And the ACLU wants to hit Utahns where it hurts - in the state's image.
Deseret News/KSL-TV pollster Dan Jones says national surveys he's conducted show that among Americans who have visited Utah, the state's image is good. They rave about the state's beauty and the friendliness of its people.
Those who haven't visited, however, have some misconceptions. "They have a good impression of the people in general, know about skiing and the Utah Jazz," says Jones. But they also think Utah is an enclave of polygamist families with lots of children, he adds.
Opponents of the abortion law clearly want to add another negative tag to the state - home of unfair abortion laws that penalize women.
They let it be know early that they would take their fight nationally in an effort to harm the state. Such blackmail rarely works, especially on issues seen as moral stands. Bangerter and Republican legislative leaders say it won't work.
The ACLU and other groups who oppose the new abortion law aren't intimidated, either, by Bangerter and GOP legislative leaders. They are carrying out their threats. "This is a new example of stooping, and I mean stooping, to bash Utah," said House Speaker Craig Moody, R-Sandy, concerning the ACLU advertisement. (In fact, Bangerter is sick of talking about abortion and the ACLU. He's instructed Scruggs and press secretary Francine Giani not to make further comments on the ACLU. "He believes we should get this thing (abortion issue) out of the governor's office and into the courts where it belongs," said Giani.)
We'll see what future public relations problems the ACLU and others have in store for the state.
- On the candidate front: Republican Michael Leavitt says he's decided not to run for the U.S. Senate next year. Leavitt is still seriously considering, however, entering the governor's race.
Leavitt, who has run several statewide races for well-known Republicans but never been a candidate himself before, is an insurance executive, a member of the Board of Regents and sits on the board of Utah Power & Light Co.
He is a close personal friend of Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, and wouldn't run for the Senate, should Garn seek a fourth term. Garn hasn't yet announced his 1992 political plans.
Leavitt looked seriously at the Senate race but turned it down for personal reasons, he says. Politically speaking, he admits he'd probably had a better shot at the Senate race, since the GOP governor's race is already crowded with qualified potential candidates. But his interests lie in executive power, not legislative compromise, and he wants to get in public service and out in a short time. "The Senate is basically a permanent career change. I didn't want to do that," Leavitt said.