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Utah lawmaker proposes one of nation's strictest abortion laws

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker is proposing what would be one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, has filed a bill to ban abortions in the state after 15 weeks gestation, with some exceptions.

Acton said she decided to run the bill after learning about all the "problems" with second-trimester abortions for the woman and the unborn child.

"If we move that elective abortion time frame, then we can avoid so many of the risks that are physical, psychological and emotional that women experience after a second-trimester abortion," she said. "Also, we know so much more about fetal pain perception."

Acton's bill, HB136, would allow exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother and fatal fetal defects.

Mississippi last year passed a 15-week abortion law, with exceptions for medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality, but a federal judge blocked it. The Utah law would likely face a court challenge were it to pass.

Minority Assistant Whip Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, quickly condemned Acton's proposal.

"This is a federal issue, and the state should leave it alone,” she said. "Bills like this that have been tried by other states are always struck down. It’s a waste of time. It’ll never stand up in court."

A federal court in 2016 permanently blocked a North Dakota law banning abortions as soon as a heartbeat is detected in the fetus — as early as six weeks into pregnancy. A federal court also blocked an Arkansas law restricting abortions to 12 weeks. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear either case, allowing appellate court rulings to stand.

Romero said Acton's bill is a calculated nationwide effort to impede women from having a choice for an abortion. Utah has already done enough to hinder women who seek their constitutionally protected right to govern their bodies, she said.

Acton said her bill preserves a woman's right to choose but requires her to make the decision five to seven weeks earlier.

Acton said she finds the dilation and evacuation abortion procedure "unconscionable" and that it "shouldn't be sanctioned by Utah law."

"Although I’ve always been against abortion, I’ve kind of averted my eyes. I didn’t want to know all the things that I’ve learned. Once I learned those things, I felt compelled to sponsor bill," she said.

Acton will be among the speakers at the Utah March for Life rally at the state Capitol on Jan. 26.

The left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah said Acton's bill flies in the face of Roe v. Wade.

"Our state lawmakers are once again attempting to chip away at safe and legal abortion access," said Lauren Simpson, Better Utah policy director.

Defending the law court, she said, would deny funding to other needed projects and cause.

"We should invest our taxpayer dollars in those priorities, rather than paying more lawyers to defend patently unconstitutional bills," Simpson said.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, took to the Senate floor this week to laud Friday's national March for Life in Washington, D.C., saying the anti-abortion movement will one day win the fight over abortion.

Lee said the “struggle for life is just the latest battle in America’s long, noble crusade for justice, equality, freedom and dignity. It is a fight worth having, a fight worthy of our heritage, a fight worthy of our children.”

“One day soon, Mr. President, we’re going to win this one, too,” he said.

Lee said the duty to justice and equality extends beyond the unborn child in the womb. It extends to the child's mother, father, siblings, friends, neighborhood, school and church, he said.

"Abortion is evil; but so is indifference. Human dignity impels us to transcend both— not merely by changing laws, but by changing hearts, starting with our own," he said.

The Utah House last year passed legislation barring abortions sought because a fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome, but it didn't get a vote in the Senate.

Acton said she believes she can get her bill through the House. She said she's stilling working to get a Senate sponsor.