The pain and frustration of a public debate on abortion crept into the Legislature Thursday as a House committee, voting on party lines, approved a resolution calling on Congress to adopt a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion.
Emotional testimony was heard on both sides, as Rep. Glenn Way, R-Spanish Fork, sponsor of HJR10, called it the "height of arrogance" that a mother can determine if her baby lives or dies, but that someone who may stab a baby in the womb can be tried for murder.
"She can decide to scramble the (fetus') brain (in a partial-birth abortion) or burn it (in another type of abortion). It is murder, I believe," Way said.
Democrats on the committee voted against Way's resolution, Republicans voted for it.
Rep. Trish Beck, D-Sandy, said she had to decide herself whether to have her sixth child after doctors recommended she end her pregnancy due to risks to her own health.
She pleaded with the committee to allow an amendment to Way's resolution allowing exceptions for rape, incest and life or health of the mother. For while she decided to risk her child's birth, Beck said, she understands the tough decision other mothers may have to make to end a pregnancy.
But Beck's amendment was too lengthy to consider as a verbal amendment, and so must wait for House floor action.
Beck said she believes Way's amendment, without those exceptions, "would be laughed at" in Congress. Way said he would accept an amendment with rape, incest and life of the mother, but said that language didn't really belong in his resolution and should wait for the actual debate on a constitutional amendment itself.
Gayle Ruzicka of Utah Eagle Forum questioned what exceptions should be made. She said she has met with people who were born after a rape or incest, along with those born with severe disabilities and they said they were offended that some people would say "their lives were not as valuable" because of a disability or of the way they were conceived.
Way said if rape was an exclusion "we'll see a lot more raped women, for some will say certain things to get rid of unwanted babies."
Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake responded: "I take issue that women would lie about rape to get an abortion. It goes back to blaming women for their own rape. The real issue is to do more to prevent abortions beforehand."
That sentiment was echoed by Kerrie Galloway of Planned Parenthood and Bev Cooper of Utahns For Choice, who said they, too, want to cut down on the number of abortions — which Way said is around 3,700 a year.
"Some say this (resolution) is a litmus test" on an abortion vote, said Cooper. "But the real test is the next step. How will you vote on a bill that requires contraception insurance coverage? How will you vote to give kids in schools" better sex education? she asked.
But Way said his resolution is just about getting the U.S. Congress to pass an anti-abortion constitutional amendment; overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision on Roe vs. Wade that allows abortions up to three months of pregnancy.
Said Ruzicka: "In 1973 six men (a court majority) cost the lives of 43 million people", the estimated number of abortions since Roe vs. Wade. "We must change that."