West Jordan GOP Rep. David Bresnahan wants to prohibit two late-term abortion procedures and says he has enough support to get his bill passed in the Utah House come January's session and believes it will pass the state Senate, too.
But if he is successful, pro-choice groups vow to sue the state. And Utah, which has spent upwards of $1 million defending anti-abortion statutes, could be spending some more money in court.Bresnahan is modeling his bill after a similar measure being debated in the U.S. House. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla., would outlaw women traveling across state lines to undergo a dilation and extraction procedure, also known as "D&X."
"I will go farther. I would outlaw D&X and the so-called saline procedure, which also ends late-term pregnancies - those after 20 weeks," Bresnahan said Tuesday. Canady's federal law would only stop women from crossing state lines for a "D&X." Bresnahan says a state law is needed to stop Utah women from getting the procedures in Utah.
Utah law allows for late-term abortions in order to save the life of the mother or in cases where her health is in danger. Under the legal term "health of the mother," Bresnahan claims "Utah abortion clinics can use mental stress the mother is under to allow for a late-term abortion. I was shocked when I found out that there was this legal loophole in our law. My bill does not stop abortions. It is not an abortion bill, really. It simply will stop two medical procedures. If another procedure (to end a late-term pregnancy) is found and used, we'll address that later."
But Elissa Porter, administrator of the Utah Women's Clinic, which performs abortions but not the type that Bresnahan's bill would outlaw, said any such attempt by the Legislature "clearly violates Roe vs. Wade - which is still the law of the land - and would certainly be challenged in the courts."
The Utah Women's Clinic does not perform abortions after the 19th week of pregnancy, Porter said.
"Definitely this will be challenged in court," said Gina Shaw of the National Abortion Federation, the national association of abortion providers. "Only about 450 D&Xs are performed each year on very ill women who almost always want the pregnancy. D&Xs are important because they allow the fetus to be examined in whole to determine what went wrong, to help the woman in future pregnancies. This Bresnahan, Canady and their ilk are trying to practice medicine without a license. They have no business getting involved in decisions made between a medical professional and the patient," Shaw said.
Bresnahan admits that relatively few D&Xs are performed in Utah. "Most of these late-term cases are going to Idaho, I believe." Porter said her clinic doesn't do them, and she doesn't believe any other Utah clinics to, either.
There may be some private cases handled at the University of Utah Medical Center, "but those would only be in extreme cases where the life of the mother is in danger, very sick mothers," said Porter.
Bresnahan said he wants to stop the more common D&X procedure "because it is an inhumane act." He described the procedure as a doctor dilating a woman, using an ultrasound machine to locate the fetus, pulling the fetus from the womb and using, if need be, needle to suck out the fetus' brain and skull if the head doesn't come out with the rest of the body. He described the saline procedure as injecting a salt solution into the womb, killing kills the fetus.
"The D&X procedure is becoming more popular because the woman doesn't feel much," said Bresnahan. "The saline procedure causes cramping, pain and the baby may kick - and that is very distressing to the woman," he said.
In any case, he said, the procedures should be outlawed in Utah. "I think very few (legislators) would stand against this. How could you be in favor of sucking out a baby's brain?"
He disagreed with Shaw, saying 3,000 to 4,000 D&Xs are done each year in the United States. Even though "only a handful are done in Utah, even those should be stopped," said Bresnahan.