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Will Texas’ new abortion law influence Utah politicians to pass similar legislation?

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Women protest against the six-week abortion ban at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021.

Women protest against the six-week abortion ban at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. Dozens of people protested the abortion restriction law that went into effect Wednesday.

Jay Janner, Austin American-Statesman via Associated Press

A Texas law that prohibits most abortions after six weeks into a pregnancy was effectively given a green light by the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday, who declined to take action on the controversial bill.

In Utah, the news is being hailed as a success for anti-abortion advocates but a cause for concern for abortion-rights supporters who worry the law could serve as a blueprint for future legislation, especially with a conservative Supreme Court majority.

Abortion rights have long been in the crosshairs for some Utah GOP lawmakers, with legislative sessions often featuring bills aimed at preventing or discouraging the procedure.

Utah is also one of two dozen states that recently threw support behind a Mississippi case asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its ruling in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

The amicus brief, filed in July, also asks the court to overrule Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 ruling that upheld constitutional right to abortion, but allowed states to regulate the practice to protect the health of the mother and the life of the fetus.

Should Roe V. Wade be overturned, a so-called “trigger law” passed in 2020 would lead to an outright abortion ban in Utah.

Could the Texas law impact access to abortion in Utah?

In an interview with the Deseret News Friday, Utah Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, celebrated the law as a win for states’ rights, but said it “doesn’t really have any bearing in Utah.”

In 2019, Acton sponsored HB136, a bill that would shorten Utah’s window for legal abortions to 18 weeks. The bill is currently being held up by a lawsuit.

She says if lawmakers were to introduce legislation similar to Texas’ in the upcoming session, it would likely resemble her 2019 bill more than what is currently law in the Lone Star State.

“If we do use it as some sort of model legislation in the future I know it would be modified,” she said, noting the lack of exceptions for rape survivors or incest and the six-week window would not get support in Utah.

“For many people that’s problematic,” she said.

Katie Matheson, deputy director for Alliance for a Better Utah, a progressive government accountability group, says a “copy and paste of what happened in Texas” would be a worst-case scenario for Utah.

“How many times can we restrict this medical procedure, against the advice of medical professionals who do these medical procedures, and care for pregnant people?” she asked.

Matheson added that a similar bill would struggle to gain traction among the public, pointing to recent polling that shows most Utahns don’t support increased restrictions on abortion.

“The funny thing about abortion is that it seems like there’s this overwhelming support for overturning Roe and taking away a person’s decision about their body when in fact we know that’s not the case,” she said.

Utah Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, said he wouldn’t be surprised if some legislators were emboldened by the Supreme Court’s decision but is unaware of any legislation being drafted that would go against Roe V. Wade.

“I can only imagine that some people might be thinking about introducing that kind of legislation, but it would just be a guess,” he said. “I would be supportive of that kind of legislation, certainly.”

In the past, Christiansen sponsored legislation that looked to cut back on the number of abortions carried out, including an unsuccessful informed consent law introduced in January that would have required anyone seeking an abortion to take an online class that shows detailed and “medically accurate” pictures of the procedure.

On Friday Christiansen said that bill has been redrafted, although he wasn’t sure whether he would introduce it in the upcoming session.