Awaiting a judge’s decision, some Utah women seeking abortions spent the day in a clinic waiting room
The temporary halt to Utah’s trigger law was cheered by some Utahns, denounced by others
First came the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that recognized women’s constitutional right to abortion.
That set in motion a process to certify Utah’s so-called trigger law passed in 2020, anticipating the overturn of Roe. It allows abortions only 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 defect that is uniformly diagnosable and uniformly lethal or ... has a severe brain abnormality that is uniformly diagnosable.”
That put a halt to elective abortion in Utah on Friday, which meant dozens of Utah women who had scheduled abortions were informed it was no longer legal to perform the procedures.
The law has been “devastating and terrifying for our patients,” said Karrie Galloway, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah.
On Saturday, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, on behalf of itself and its patients, physicians, and staff, filed a lawsuit against the state of Utah, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, and Mark Steinagel, director of the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.
The lawsuit asks a 3rd District Court judge to declare that the law violates the Utah Constitution, grant a temporary restraining order, and eventually, consider motions for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to prevent defendants from enforcing what Planned Parenthood, through its attorneys, called “flagrantly unconstitutional law.”
From late Friday afternoon until about 3:45 p.m. Monday abortion providers in Utah were prevented from offering women the services they had anticipated.
Clinicians and staff had gut-wrenching conversations with women who had already made difficult decisions to terminate pregnancies only to be told they could not have the procedures in Utah because the state’s trigger law was now in effect, Planned Parenthood officials said.
“It was extremely difficult for our staff to have to cancel appointments Saturday and today,” said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Katrina Barker.
“Our health center staff do this job because they want to help people, and this ban (was) preventing that,” she said.
According to the lawsuit filed on Saturday, Planned Parenthood canceled appointments for a dozen patients who had abortions scheduled that day. “PPAU has more than 55 patients scheduled for abortion appointments in the next week, including 12 on Monday, 19 on Tuesday, and 19 on Wednesday,” the lawsuit states.
Monday afternoon, Planned Parenthood’s clinics were able to resume comprehensive services after 3rd District Court Judge Andrew Stone issued a temporary restraining order that keeps the Utah law from going into effect for 14 days.
“When I went downstairs to announce it, there was a lot of relief in the room,” said Galloway.
Barker said, “We did have patients literally waiting in our clinic today hoping the TRO would be granted who were then immediately able to get care. Our staff is now reaching out to any patients who had their appointments canceled Saturday and earlier today to get them back in as soon as possible.”
Barker said she was not aware of any women who had scheduled care out of state.
Galloway said the Utah Constitution calls for equal treatment of men and women in Utah. “Up until an hour ago, the politicians of Utah are making decisions for women’s bodies and that’s not right. We now have the opportunity to take two weeks to make our case for a preliminary injunction. Hopefully it will be granted and a full hearing will begin on the merits of this case,” she said following the judge’s ruling.
Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said in a statement that Stone’s decision effectively sentenced more than 100 babies to death. McCay is sponsor of SB174, which Planned Parenthood is challenging.
“Statistically 8.2 babies are aborted every day in Utah. Sadly, Judge Stone sentenced 115 babies to death. It’s disappointing that a law meant to protect the most vulnerable, the unborn, is delayed by one judge with no support in the law. I’m confident that Utah’s abortion ban will be upheld, and we can work to support life” said McCay.
The lawsuit, meanwhile, opposes a Utah law that eliminates what it described as women’s “safe, legal access to abortion — access that has existed for at least five decades,” under Roe.
Moreover, “they 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 part.
Deanna Holland, executive director of Pro-Life Utah, said she believes that ultimately, the Utah law will be permitted to take effect.
She said the organization was “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.”
Earlier Monday, a judge in Louisiana temporarily blocked enforcement of that state’s abortion “trigger laws.”
Utah and Louisiana are two of 13 states where their legislatures had previously enacted laws designed to curtail abortions in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.