SALT LAKE CITY — A new group calling itself Abortion-Free Utah launched a campaign Wednesday to end elective abortion in the state, while a state senator plans to run a bill to make the practice illegal in Utah.
The effort specifically targets the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah "because they are the No. 1 provider of elective abortions in the state, killing nearly 2,000 Utah babies every year," according to the group.
"We are inviting the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah to leave the state of Utah," Merrilee Boyack, chairwoman of Abortion-Free Utah, said at a rally at the state Capitol.
Boyack said the group's goal is to make abortion "unthinkable."
"We are here to save babies. That is why we are here," she said with more than a dozen Republican lawmakers and about 200 people standing behind her, many clad in yellow T-shirts reading, "I will not stand by while unborn babies are killed by abortion."
The campaign will include sidewalk advocacy outside Planned Parenthood clinics, an online petition, anti-abortion education resources, support for pregnancy resource centers in Utah, and calling for residents to take action in their neighborhoods and communities, according to organizers.
Karrie Galloway, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Utah, said the group is using "inflammatory language" to rally its cause but "that's how they do it."
"I'm a health care provider and we make sure we're following the letter and the spirit of the law providing health care to the people of Utah," she said, adding she would never advocate to deny families the right to their own self-determination.
"(Abortion-Free Utah) would like to make decisions for everyone. I wouldn't want that responsibility," Galloway said.
The campaign comes as Planned Parenthood is suing the state over its new law banning abortion after 18 weeks of gestation. A federal judge in April barred the state from enforcing the law during the court case.
While the law shortens the legal abortion window, it maintains a woman's right to have an elective abortion, allowing exceptions for rape, incest, life or permanent impairment of the mother, and fatal fetal defects or severe brain abnormality.
Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said he will run legislation in 2020 to end elective abortion in Utah "because it matters." Government's job, in many ways, is to protect those who can't protect themselves and "when you're an unborn child you are the most vulnerable of all of them," he said.
McCay said the bill is currently in the draft stage and he doesn't know what, if any exemptions, it would include.
The Alabama Legislature passed a bill last month that would ban almost all abortions in the state, setting the stage for a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. The law makes an exception for cases when the mother's life is at risk, but not for rape or incest.
Utah lawmakers have not been willing to go that far, likely in part because the Alabama law is not consistent with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' stance on abortion. The church allows for exceptions in cases of rape, incest and serious harm to the life or health of the mother.
McCay said the Utah bill could include a future effective date should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.
"We wouldn't necessarily be part of litigation. We'd wait for it to be settled and then be part of it," he said.
The left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah called Abortion-Free Utah a "radical group aimed at undermining constitutional rights" and said that McCay's bill does the same.
"So it is extremely distressing to see Sen. McCay and other state lawmakers trying once again to restrict the constitutional rights of Utahns," said Lauren Simpson, policy director for Alliance for a Better Utah.
"Eliminating the right to safe abortions would have disastrous consequences for our state, leading to unsafe abortions and putting women's lives at risk," she said. "We know some state lawmakers have deep personal feelings about abortion, but by imposing their personal views onto state law, they are advocating for policies that would harm the constituents they were elected to serve."
McCay's wife, Tawnee McCay, a city councilwoman in Riverton, led an effort for the council to declare the city's support for human life and opposition to reducing existing restrictions on abortion.
Boyack said Abortion-Free Utah supports every bill that would "save babies" and intends to work with lawmakers on other legislation that she said she isn't ready to talk about.
House Minority Assistant Whip Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said she's "disappointed" that the discussion continually returns to restricting a woman's right to choose. Utah, she said, should "trust women."
"In my opinion, abortion bans are not about unborn babies. These bans are about guilting women into submission. These bans are way out of step with how most Americans feel about the termination of a pregnancy. These bans will not end abortion," she said.
At the rally, Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, said she looks forward to a day when Utah is "abortion free."
"For too long, our sisters have been lied to," she told the crowd. "It is time for women in America and in Utah to reject the lies of the abortion industry."
Earlier this year, the Legislature passed Lisonbee's bill outlawing abortions solely based on a Down syndrome diagnosis. It would not take effect until courts rule on its constitutionality.
Galloway said instead of trying to restrict abortion, Abortion-Free Utah should work with Planned Parenthood to make sure family planning care is available to everyone. As an "ethical person," she said, she would not begin to take someone's rights away.
"I find it totally hypocritical," she said.
Mary Taylor, president of Pro-Life Utah and part of the Abortion-Free Utah campaign, said Utah mothers and babies deserve "real help."
"We intend to expose the many shocking reasons why women should think twice before trusting their health and the life of their unborn baby to Planned Parenthood," she said. "We cannot stand by while babies are dying in the name of medical care."