SALT LAKE CITY — Supporters of abortion rights plan to press for vetoes of two bills that made it through the 2020 Legislature.
Three pieces of legislation relating to abortion — a ban on most elective procedures, regulations on disposing of fetal remains and mandatory ultrasounds — inspired walkouts, heated debate, national media attention and increased scrutinization on Utah’s abortion laws.
“Utah already has over 30 restrictions on abortion, and Utahns have shown they’re not interested in more restrictions in abortion,” said Katie Matheson, spokeswoman for Alliance for a Better Utah.
Citing a poll that found 80% of Utahns say the state doesn’t need additional restrictions on abortions, Matheson said her organization plans to call for a veto of SB174, which bans abortion except in cases of rape, incest, “substantial impairment” of the mother’s health or if the fetus has a lethal or severe birth defect. If signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, the law would only take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the decision granting women access to abortions.
The poll Matheson cited was commissioned by the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, the Alliance for a Better Utah and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.
The elective abortion ban passed on the final night of the 45-day session, while SB67 passed March 6, and requires health care providers to either bury or cremate aborted or miscarried fetal remains. Women would be able to choose not to make the decision.
“I am pleased that women and parents will now have the option to choose if they wish to bury or cremate their baby in the event of a miscarriage or abortion. I am pleased that fetal remains — like other human remains — will be treated with more dignity,” SB67 sponsor Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said in a statement.
A third bill — which sparked national media attention when all six women serving in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, walked out in protest as their names were called for a vote — would have required doctors to show a woman her ultrasound before performing an abortion, though she could look away if she wished. HB364 passed the Senate after an emotionally charged debate that ended with five Republicans breaking from their party to vote against it. It died in the House when leadership would not call the bill for a final vote on an amendment before the session closed.
The governor has until April 1 to determine whether or not he will veto or sign the legislation, and abortion rights groups are gearing up to continue fighting.
Karrie Galloway, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said the group will remind people what the Legislature has done and tell them who they should talk to if they disagree with the bills.
Herbert said at the end of the session that “all bills are subject to veto” if he thinks something is amiss or wrong with the policy.
“We don’t really have any big headliners right now for a veto, but sometimes it doesn’t come until after a session is over,” he said.
Galloway and Matheson both noted that there were quite a few bills dealing with women’s reproductive rights this session.
“They felt that with the current administration in Washington, it was prime time for Utah to put their badge on this type of legislation,” Galloway said. “None of it was new and different. It was all garnered from other states.”
Galloway said she wishes lawmakers would focus on improving women’s reproductive health care instead, such as funding Sen. Derek Kitchen’s bill that would have expanded Medicaid to provide more Utahns with family planning services and birth control. The legislation was never funded or heard in the House, though it did pass 23-1 in the Senate.
“Why don’t we get to the crux of women not having access to good health care to plan their families?” Galloway said. “What if we had more education for men on respect of women on the fact that their sperm causes a pregnancy — that they have some responsibilities?”
As for requiring doctors to administer ultrasounds for women before they get an abortion, Galloway said she was so relieved the bill ultimately failed.
She credited the female senators who walked out in protest for the outcome.
“We all, as women and people who love women, owe them a debt of gratitude because it took something big like that for the commonsense people to say ‘Whoa, maybe we are messing in something we shouldn’t be messing in,’” she said.
Herbert on the last night of the session talked about the women’s decision to walk out.
“I think that was a strong message — one that I certainly saw and heard, and I hope all of us as men will respond to it in a positive way. We need to listen to those on the frontlines of abortion and birth and that’s our women,” he told reporters Thursday night.
Ultrasound bill sponsor Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, said he learned a great deal that will benefit him moving forward 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. And 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,” Christiansen said.
Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, issued a statement after the women walked out in which she affirmed that while she is pro-life and will always vote for pro-life bills, she is concerned “we are overstepping with government mandates of medically unnecessary procedures.”
Final passage of SB174, the elective abortion ban, was swift and decisive on a 51-21 vote, with lawmakers shooting down proposed amendments from Democrats hoping to lessen its impact.
During debate, Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Sandy, who is a doctor, raised concerns that rather than reducing the number of abortions, the bill would increase the magnitude of unsafe abortions.
“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.”
Bill sponsor Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, told lawmakers during Senate debate Feb. 28 that “our responsibility is to have these arguments, to have these discussions.”
He said the concept of a women’s rights marginalizes one person’s rights at the benefit of another, in this case the fetus.
“My rights stop when it hurts someone else,” McCay said. And government’s “primary function is to protect life.”