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Utah County latest body to adopt anti-abortion stance amid national Roe v. Wade pressure

‘If not now, when?’ Commissioner Bill Lee asks

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FILE - Members of the new group Abortion-Free Utah launch a campaign to end elective abortion in the state at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 19, 2019.

FILE - Members of the new group Abortion-Free Utah launch a campaign to end elective abortion in the state at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 19, 2019.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

PROVO — Another Utah community is taking a strong stance against abortion, declaring formal support for state and national legislation "that protects human life from its earliest stages."

The Utah County Commission — applauded by more than a dozen supporters wearing bright yellow shirts in solidarity against abortion — voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve the resolution, formally declaring Utah County's "support for protecting all human life."

The move makes Utah County, Utah's second-largest county by population, the second government body in recent weeks to approve an anti-abortion, pro-life resolution after the Riverton City Council last month passed a similar declaration.

The city of Highland is also weighing a similar resolution.

The resolutions — which hold no legal weight, but rather formally declare the governmental bodies' beliefs — come amid a national wave to challenge federal abortion laws.

State after state this year has passed a variety of new abortion restrictions, seeking to challenge and dismantle Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. A new Utah law bans elective abortions after a pregnancy reaches 18 weeks, and was strategically drafted with the expectation it would be challenged in court.

A state senator also has plans to run a bill next year to make elective abortions illegal in Utah.

Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee brought forward the Utah County resolution, which was met with wide support from county residents and his two other colleagues on the commission.

Lee acknowledged the resolution "does not have the force of law behind it," but said, "If I had the ability to do something that has a little bit more of the force of law, I would.

"If I can't stand up now, who will? And if it's not now, when?" Lee said.

The resolution declares "all human life, regardless of age or circumstance, must be protected by the laws of society," and that Utah County supports "legislation on the state and national levels that protects human life from its earliest stages."

The resolution also states Utah County honors the rights of health care providers to "object on moral grounds to performing abortions or euthanasia" and opposes "any regulation or law seeking to violate that right."

Additionally, the resolution states support for adoptions as an alternative to abortion, supports efforts to educate parents on pro-life options, but also recognizes and supports "those who have to make the difficult decision as to whether to terminate a pregnancy in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's health is endangered."

A group of nearly 20 Utah County residents wearing yellow shirts in solidarity against abortion spoke in support of the resolution, urging commissioners to protect life, even of the unborn.

Two residents spoke against, urging the commissioners to not encourage the removal of a woman's ability to choose what to do with her life or body.

"Many years ago, I had an abortion," Mary Taylor, president of ProLife Utah, told the commissioners. "I have paid very deeply with regret and sorrow. The struggles at that time in my life were very temporary. The heartache, it seems, will be permanent."

Taylor said she was 19 when she "rationalized" the abortion, thinking "the government would never ever sanction something that would put an end to another human being's life."

"We look to our government to be a guiding light," she said. "This resolution will undoubtedly be a light for many. It will save lives and heartache."

But one woman, who did not give her name to the commission, said she had an abortion about 20 years ago — and urged commissioners against taking away any options for women.

"I am very grateful that at no time whether or not it was a legal procedure, whether or not it was a safe procedure, was brought up," she said. "I have lived the guilt and shame of being an unwed pregnant woman. Please. Vote for the rights of women to make the choice."

Merrilee Boyack, chairwoman of Abortion Free Utah campaign, which was launched last week with the stated goal to eradicate elective abortions in Utah, told the commission that by declaring Utah County a "sanctuary for all human life, including that of the unborn," she hopes it will save women from "health risks that accompany abortion."

Gayle Ruzicka, director of the Utah Eagle Forum, also applauded the resolution, recalling that before Roe v. Wade, she would have "never dreamed" to see the day abortion was legal in the United States.

"I vowed then I would do everything I could for the rest of my life, if that's what it took, to change that," she said.

I can’t ever imagine the desire to electively terminate a life. – Tanner Ainge, Utah County Commission

Both of Lee's colleagues on the County Commission, Tanner Ainge and Nathan Ivie, both threw passionate support behind the resolution, both speaking of personal experiences.

Ivie told of how his mother was adopted after her birth mother chose not to have an abortion. "My mother is with us today because her biological mom had the courage and the desire for her to live," he said.

Ivie, who recently came out as gay, said he is "reminded there are wonderful people and families who are anxious and eager to help and love and to cherish and raise life when given the opportunity."

Ainge told of how he and his wife once rushed to the hospital, fearing she was miscarrying. During the ultrasound, Ainge said he spotted not one, but two heartbeats.

"There has never been a moment of more deep motivation where I came closer to the very purpose of existence than right then and there," he said, his voice straining with emotion. "The motivation to just do anything to protect and defend those little heartbeats, which turned out to be my twin daughters."

That's why, Ainge said, "I can't ever imagine the desire to electively terminate a life."