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Abortion bills fall by wayside

The always emotional topic of abortion was among the first and last debates in the 2003 session for a pair of mostly symbolic proposals that were dear to the hearts of their sponsors but proved too problematic to garner any real support.

An abortion bill was being debated in the Senate, but not seriously, as the final gavel came down at midnight Wednesday before a vote could be taken.

Sen. Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park, stopped mid-sentence in arguing the merits of substituting an abortion bill to announce to fellow lawmakers that the atomic clock linked to his computer was showing 30 seconds past midnight.

The Senate's clock caught up about a half minute later, and Senate President Al Mansell put an end to further business for the session.

Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Orem and sponsor of HB241, said although he knew his measure to outlaw partial-birth abortions might have been deemed unconstitutional, he believed it would have established important legal precedence.

"It resolved where abortion ends and infanticide begins," Thompson said. "It also defined when the child is a child and is protected under the law from harm."

The bill would have outlawed the rarely performed procedure unless the mother would die without it. Thompson also tried to distinguish between the physical and mental health of the mother, calling mental health a "loophole" used to allow the procedure.

The second abortion bill, HB213, prohibited the use of public funds to pay for abortions even though virtually no public funds in Utah pay for them.

The sponsors admitted the practical effect of their bills may have been unclear even to them, but they believed it was important to try to make Utah's attitude about abortion perfectly and legally stated in statute, a goal they plan to pursue again next year.

HB213 sponsor Rep. Morgan Philpot, R-Sandy, said even though he doesn't know how much money would be affected by his proposed ban, he still believes it's important that state agencies know that tax money can never be used for abortion, and anyone who would approve such an expenditure would be punished and the offending agency's budget should be cut.

Planned Parenthood reports 3,289 abortions were performed in Utah in 2001, most paid for privately or under private insurers. Of those, 30 were pregnancies resulting from rape, six were performed because the pregnancy threatened the life of the mother, 20 were for fetal malformation, and 25 were elective.

It also reports that there was one partial-birth abortion done in the past 15 years.

For people who are covered by Medicaid insurance offered through the health department, there were three rape- and incest-caused abortions were paid for through the state Department of Health during the past two years. So-called therapeutic abortions are not performed.