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Gov. Mike Leavitt believes the state won't resolve its dispute with physicians over the state's 1991 ban on prenatal experimentation and will leave the matter to the courts.

The time has come for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to resolve the issue once and for all, Leavitt said during his monthly press conference Thursday morning. "We have spent way too much time, a disproportionate amount of time, for the level of the dispute it is," Leavitt said.There are 26 different plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "Getting everyone together has not been possible. When you can't get everyone to agree, that's why you have courts," the governor said.

Physicians at the University of Utah have been negotiating with state attorneys and lawmakers for two years over language in the law they believe would limit their ability to treat prenatal problems. The language bans the use of prenatal tissue in medical experiments.

Physicians who violate the law face criminal penalties.

"We have argued too long about abortion and spent too much time in litigation," the governor said.

Leavitt said he still is unhappy over Attorney General Jan Graham's decision to fire state counsel Mary Anne Wood last spring. "The attorney general has made that decision and I respect that decision. If it were my decision, I would have had Mary Anne Wood complete it." It makes no sense to have one attorney litigate the case in federal court then have another attorney handle the appeal, he said.

At the heart of Leavitt's dispute with Graham is the question over who makes the decision to hire outside counsel, he said. The Constitution empowers the attorney general to make that decision. But the Legislature has frequently directed the attorney general to hire private counsel. Leavitt said the dispute is a minor one.

Wood notified the federal court this month of her withdrawal as the state's counsel. She will continue to act as informal counsel to Leavitt.

Leavitt said he "would not be surprised" if the Legislature hired Wood to file a friend-of-the-court brief for lawmakers in the dispute with physicians.

Graham dismissed Wood as state counsel last spring because she wanted to slash fees paid to all outside counsel. She either settled other cases or dismissed outside counsel in those cases as well.

Recent negotiations over the 1991 law and the suit over the 1993 abortion law were handled by Graham's staff.