SALT LAKE CITY — A conservative state legislator who has run abortion-restricting bills before will have another one in the 2010 Legislature.
Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, wants to clearly restrict elective abortions to the physical health of the mother, not dealing with her mental health at all, and seeks to require the doctor to conduct a free ultrasound of the fetus, if the woman agrees to it.
"It is a bit of a confusing bill because we are repealing the informed consent part of state law, updating and rewriting it," Wimmer said.
However, he says of recent anti-abortion legislation he's carried, "this is the less controversial, although" abortion rights advocates "may not see it that way."
Melissa Bird, executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Council, says Wimmer's bill is unnecessary and will only end up costing the state Health Department "more money when we are asking the department to take another 3 percent budget cut this year."
Utah Planned Parenthood does not perform abortions but advocates on women's reproductive issues.
Bird said instead of "wasting more taxpayer dollars we should be concentrating on good family planning, which could cut in half the 3,000 abortions that are done in this state each year because of unwanted pregnancies."
Bird says she sees no lawsuits coming should Wimmer's bill pass. "He's not placing a greater burden on the woman" — which could lead to legal challenges — "but greater financial burdens on the state."
Besides his informed consent rewrite, Wimmer has another anti-abortion bill for the 2010 Legislature, which starts Jan. 25. That bill, HB12, would make it clear that a woman seeking to illegally abort her fetus could be penalized.
State attorneys are currently appealing the decision of a state judge that a Vernal woman cannot be prosecuted for paying a man $150 to beat her in an attempt to abort her fetus. The man who beat the woman is in jail and the baby, ultimately safely delivered, is in state custody.
Wimmer's new HB200, the informed consent rewrite, says that should a woman agree to an ultrasound — a procedure whereby you can see an electronic outline of a fetus, see its heart beating, arms, legs and a head — the medical personnel giving the ultrasound must also describe what the fetus is doing, talk about what can be seen on the ultrasound.
That kind of information may, Wimmer says, deter the woman from going through with the abortion.
Women seeking an abortion already get free printed material and a video on the procedure.
However, a free ultrasound (paid for by the state or county health departments) would show the woman her own fetus, not just a fetus, as is now seen in material.
"If the mother chooses to have the free ultrasound, the (TV) screen must be in a position that she can see the ultrasound" as it is being performed, said Wimmer, whose bill lists what the doctor or technician must describe to the woman.
Bird said "common medical practice" already calls for an ultrasound before an abortion, with the woman able to see her fetus' image. "This just costs the health departments more money."
Wimmer said: "I'm a strong fiscal conservative. If this bill will cost government a lot of money, I won't run it. But I don't think it will."
More than three-fourths of Utah lawmakers are members of the LDS Church. And over the years Utah's abortion laws have reflected the church's abortion stands.
While opposing abortions, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognize some exemptions — like when "a competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy."
The church does not distinguish between physical and mental health of the woman, although Wimmer's bill does.
Bird says while Wimmer's physical-health-only clause "is a policy change," in practice it likely won't affect abortions, either.
Finally, in his rewrite Wimmer flips the current language from preserving the life of a mother to averting the death of the mother. "That tightens it up a bit, also," he said.