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Utah Legislature passes elective abortion ban but mandatory ultrasound bill stalls in House

SHARE Utah Legislature passes elective abortion ban but mandatory ultrasound bill stalls in House

The Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Several minutes after it was brought to the floor for final approval of Senate amendments, a bill requiring doctors to show a woman her ultrasound before performing an abortion was put on hold in the House. 

Sponsor Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, told the Deseret News that it is “unlikely” HB364 will be heard before the session ends at midnight, meaning it is dead until next session. 

Christiansen said he’s learned a great deal as a freshman legislator that will benefit him as he continues to “fight for life.” 

“There is still a significant need for women who are contemplating an abortion to have better and more relevant information for their critical decision,” Christiansen said. “To the extent that improved information helps avoid an abortion, a life will have been saved and the risks to a woman’s health from abortion will have been averted.” 

HB364 would require a medical provider to describe or show the images produced in the ultrasound to a woman before she receives an abortion and, if possible, amplify the fetal heartbeat so it is audible. The woman could look away or ask to have the sound turned down if she wished.

Rep. Lee Perry, R-Weber County, made the motion to hold the bill, saying there are concerns in the body. It passed 41-32. 

Senate passage of the bill spurred all of the women in the Senate — Republican and Democrat — to walk out as their names were called to vote Tuesday, refusing to cast their vote on the legislation. Before the vote, Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, amended the bill to ban transvaginal ultrasounds, which she described as “incredibly invasive.”

Thursday evening, Alliance for a Better Utah policy director Lauren Simpson told the Deseret News the bill would have mandated an “incredibly invasive and unnecessary procedure, the goal of which was to shame a woman for a decision she made.”

“We are appreciative to the lawmakers who realized this was a step too far and did what needed to be done to stop it from becoming law,” she said.

Elective abortion ban

House lawmakers passed a bill that would ban elective abortions in the state of Utah with a few exceptions, but not before shooting down proposed amendments from two Democrats.

As a third technical change was approved, the bill went before the Senate for a final vote, which it passed 22-5.

SB174 would enact a sweeping ban of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, “substantial impairment” of the mother’s health, or if the fetus has a lethal birth defect or severe brain abnormality that would render it in a vegetative state. Any abortions performed not falling under those exceptions would be a second-degree felony.

The ban would only go into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

“This bill is meant to discourage the taking of human life. Human life, according to the state of Utah, is important and should be protected,” said House sponsor Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield.

Lisonbee said the bill is a replica of legislation passed in 1991 that made its way to the Supreme Court. Parts were upheld, while others were deemed unconstitutional, but the new bill’s contingency clause would prevent it from taking effect unless Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Democrats voiced their opposition to the bill, including Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Sandy.

As a doctor, Harrison said she talks to patients every day about the risk and possible outcomes of their surgeries, however, “diagnosis and prognosis” doesn’t mean a guarantee.

“In medicine there are often no guarantees or black-and- white answers. Sometimes in policy or politics you are tempted to want things to be black or white — good or bad — yes or no. Medicine isn’t like that,” Harrison said. “The ways in which a pregnancy can go awry are myriad, unpredictable and complex.”

Rather than reducing the number of abortions, this bill will increase the magnitude of unsafe abortions, she said.

Two of the three amendments proposed on the floor came from Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, and Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek.

Stoddard proposed that the second-degree felony penalty be dropped to an infraction as it could have dangerous consequences on a person who performed an abortion on themself because they might not go to the hospital if something went wrong for fear of criminal charges.

Arent proposed the bill be stripped of the requirement that the individual must file a police report after a rape in order to get an abortion as there are many reasons people don’t report.

Both amendments failed. Final passage was 51-21 with six Republicans voting against.

Fetal remains

Lawmakers also passed a bill that would require health care providers to either bury or cremate aborted or miscarried fetal remains March 7.

The legislation would result in women receiving a form asking how she wants the remains to be taken care of, however, she could choose not to select a method if she wished.

SB67 sponsor Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said the bill, which received opposition from abortion-rights groups that it would increase a woman’s trauma by forcing a decision on how she wanted disposal of the remains, emphasized repeatedly that she would not have to make a decision if she didn’t want to.