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Judge issues temporary restraining order, banning Utah abortion law from taking effect

SHARE Judge issues temporary restraining order, banning Utah abortion law from taking effect
The Scott M. Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City is pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.

The Scott M. Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City is pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. Third District Judge Andrew Stone granted an emergency hearing on Monday for a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood regarding Utah’s abortion law that went into effect on Friday.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

A Utah judge issued a temporary restraining order Monday, blocking Utah's new abortion law, SB174, from taking effect.

The restraining order is good for 14 days. Planned Parenthood of Utah asked for the restraining order while its lawsuit claiming the law violates the Utah Constitution is considered in the courts. Planned Parenthood officials told the court it will seek a preliminary injunction in the next two weeks, which would prevent the law from going into effect for longer if granted.

Utah’s trigger abortion law went into effect on Friday evening following a decision earlier that day by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization which overturned the Roe v. Wade decision. The new Utah law says abortions in Utah are only legal if the mother's life is at risk, if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, or if two physicians who practice "maternal-fetal medicine" both determine that the fetus has a severe defect.

Third District Court Judge Andrew Stone granted a request from Planned Parenthood to allow an emergency hearing to discuss whether there should be a temporary restraining order in the case. The restraining order will temporarily allow abortions to continue occurring as they were in Utah prior to the Supreme Court decision.

Stone said the impact of taking away the ability to have an abortion outweighs Utah’s interest in immediately stopping abortions, noting that doctors are threatened with felonies under the new abortion law and women would be deprived of safe medical treatment. He said issues in the lawsuit deserve to be debated further.

He also noted that it is likely this lawsuit will “go upstairs” and be appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals or Utah Supreme Court, noting that his job is to give his best judgment.

Julie Murray, an attorney representing Planned Parenthood, argued that delaying abortions can cause harm to health and reduce a woman’s access to abortion. She said the stakes are high, asking the court to consider how people could be harmed by the law.

“A week can make a substantial difference in the likelihood that someone is ever able to obtain an abortion,” she said.

Murray also said since multiple states banned abortions at the same time, it would increase the price and demand for abortion in states where it remains legal. She argued that for the last five decades women have relied on the ability to have an abortion, and that it should not be taken away so quickly.

Planned Parenthood said it was scheduled to perform at least 12 abortions in Utah on Monday and asked the court to address the issue by Monday in its request for a hearing.

Tyler Green, who represents the state of Utah, said the state did not have much time to prepare before the hearing on Monday. He said he understands that the plaintiffs believe their case is urgent.

He said the complaint cites 10 constitutional provisions, but none of them should be considered to be talking about abortion based off of the language in the code.

“The Supreme Court has been clear that states have a strong interest in protecting the rights of its unborn citizens,” he said.

Murray responded by saying that the Utah Constitution, which she said has more affirmative rights than the U.S. Constitution, is clear in saying men and women should have the same rights. She said although the people writing the Constitution may not have been thinking of abortion, they understood that what the code means would change over time.

Deanna Holland, executive director of Pro-Life Utah, issued a statement expressing disappointment in the judge’s ruling.

“We are deeply saddened by today’s ruling by the 3rd District Court permitting abortion to continue in the state of Utah. Dozens of babies will now die as a result of this decision. However, we are confident that Utah’s law to protect the unborn will be ultimately affirmed. We invite any woman considering abortion to reach out to ProLifeUtah.org for help and support,” she said.

Planned Parenthood's lawsuit, which was filed on Saturday, claims that the law violates the Utah Constitution.

"Utahns who have relied on safe, legal access to abortion — access that has existed for at least five decades — will lose the right to determine the composition of their families and whether and when to become parents; their entitlement to be free from discriminatory state laws that perpetuate stereotypes about women and their proper societal role; the right to bodily autonomy and to be free from involuntary servitude; and the right to make private health care decisions and to keep those health care decisions free from public scrutiny," the lawsuit states.

In the complaint, Planned Parenthood said the law would be "catastrophic for Utahns" if it remains in place and argued it would criminalize health care providers and force survivors of sexual assault to disclose personal information in order to receive care.

Karrie Galloway, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said in a press conference after Monday’s ruling that there was a big sense of relief in the building when the ruling was made, and she thinks they made the walls shake because of the response.

“Up until an hour ago, the politicians of Utah were making decisions for women’s bodies. And that’s not right,” she said.

She said Planned Parenthood is committed to ensuring people have reproductive rights, calling the Supreme Court decision devastating. She said each state, of the 26 that are “bent on repressing women’s rights,” is challenging it differently. She said Louisiana’s courts also granted a similar temporary restraining order Monday against that state’s trigger law.

Galloway said there is still a lot of work to do, and they hope to prevail, but admits it will likely be a long, difficult fight.

“Planned Parenthood will always stand alongside our patients and providers — no matter what,” she said.

The lawsuit named the state of Utah, Attorney General Sean Reyes, Gov. Spencer Cox, and Mark Steinagel, director of the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing. At this point, none of these parties have filed responses to the lawsuit.

Stone set another hearing in the matter for July 11 to consider the preliminary injunction request Planned Parenthood plans to file, and the response from Utah.

Correction: An earlier version said the hearing would be on July 13. The hearing is scheduled for July 11, but additional time was also scheduled on July 13 if it is needed.