A special session to resolve a 1991 lawsuit over the state's restrictive abortion law will happen only when a settlement is acceptable to both parties and is also acceptable to a majority of law-makers. So far, both conditions have not been met, Gov. Mike Leavitt says.
"There will be no special session unless we can come up with a solution acceptable to a broad measure of lawmakers," Leavitt said during a Wednesday press conference. Without such an agreement, any special session would only "be rancorous and divisive and would not be in the best interests of this state."Leavitt met behind closed doors with the House and Senate Republican caucuses Wednesday to discuss "legal strategy" surrounding the case.
But critics say the meeting has more to do with politics than it does with legal strategies and that emotion-driven politics have scuttled a settlement agreeable to attorneys in the case.
"The real question (of Leavitt's huddle with lawmakers) was when he should call a special session so that moderate Republicans will vote for it and not suffer retaliation from the right-wing wackos," said House Minority Whip Kelly Atkinson, D-West Jordan. "It was political strategy not legal strategy."
Democrats initially agreed to meet with Leavitt in a closed caucus but then changed their minds. Leavitt said he would only meet with them if the caucus were closed. State law allows for closed meetings to discuss legal strategy.
Kathryn Kendall of the Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said lawyers for both sides have agreed "in principle and substance" to a settlement but that state lawmakers have allowed "politics to rule the day."
"We are now talking the politics of settlement not the substance of settlement," she said. "If these emotions are allowed, we will not have a settlement."
Leavitt expressed frustration and weariness that a settlement has not been reached but pledged to continue negotiations toward that end. "My first priority is to settle it and move on," he said.
But the issue is "very, very complicated, remarkably sensitive and deals with conflicting values," he said, and a settlement in the near future may be too optimistic.