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What do states’ fights over abortion rights mean for Utah?

In recent weeks the Department of Justice has sued Idaho, Kansas voters rejected a change to their state constitution that would have eliminated abortion rights protections and Indiana’s legislature passed new restrictions. What does this mean for Utah?

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People hug during a “Value Them Both” watch party.

People hug during a “Value Them Both” watch party after a question involving a constitutional amendment removing abortion protections from the Kansas constitution failed on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in Overland Park, Kansas. Abortion rights opponents were shocked and abortion advocates energized by a decisive statewide vote in heavily Republican Kansas this week in favor of protecting abortion access.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

In recent weeks, the federal government and states have pushed back against states’ abortion laws since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a right to abortion.

What does it mean for Utah?

The Biden administration has filed a lawsuit against Idaho for restricting access to abortion to patients who need lifesaving medical treatment.

Kansas voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the Republican-controlled Legislature to tighten restrictions or ban the procedure outright.

And Indiana became the first state to pass legislation banning abortions since the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe. The bill bans abortion from conception except in some cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormality or when the pregnant woman faces risk of death or certain severe health risks.

Meanwhile, Utah’s trigger law is on hold after 3rd District Court Judge Andrew Stone issued a preliminary injunction that temporarily prevents a ban on abortion from taking effect as Planned Parenthood Association of Utah challenges the constitutionality of the law in state court.

Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris met with a group of Latina state legislators, among them Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, to discuss the respective impacts of the overturn of Roe.

State Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, reacts to election returns on an abortion referendum on Tuesday evening.

State Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, reacts to election returns on an abortion referendum on Tuesday evening, Aug. 2, 2022, at the Overland Park Convention Center in Overland Park, Kansas. Kansas voters on Tuesday protected the right to get an abortion in their state, rejecting a measure that would have allowed their Republican-controlled Legislature to tighten abortion restrictions or ban it outright.

Evert Nelson, The Topeka Capital-Journal via Associated Press

Kansas lawmaker Rep. Susan Diaz, D-Shawnee, said the sound defeat of the proposed amendment to the Kansas constitution showed “that Kansans want to preserve the right to make health care decisions.”

She continued, “Kansas set a clear message by defeating the amendment and has shown the rest of the country how to defeat amendments in their own states.” The amendment failed by nearly 18 percentage points in an overwhelmingly red state, according to the Kansas Secretary of State’s website.

Ruiz said the campaign targeted Latino voters. Volunteers went door to door and campaign materials were published in English and Spanish.

“I think it made a difference. If this can happen in Kansas, it can happen elsewhere in the country,” she said.

Romero, who is president-elect of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, said the federal government “is looking at ways in which they can work with different states based off of the different dynamics” of their laws.

For instance, states that have imposed bans or are allowing abortion under limited circumstances may need federal resources to ensure women continue to have access to reproductive health care.

States such as Illinois and Colorado, which allow abortion on demand, are attempting to serve women from states with restrictive laws while still providing reproductive health care to their own residents.

“Prior to the decision on Roe, patients were able to schedule an appointment in about three to four days. But now the wait times are about three to four weeks and we do have patients coming from as far as Texas to the state of Illinois seeking abortion services,” state Sen. Celina Villanueva, D-Chicago, told Harris.

Politically, it remains to be seen if the vote in Kansas that preserved abortion rights will have an impact on midterm elections or ballot questions on abortion limitations or rights.

Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy and professor of political science at Brigham Young University, said context matters when examining the outcome of ballot questions in other states and whether there are implications for Utah.

“There are limits to what this says about what’s likely to happen in November for the midterm elections because those elections are about candidates with partisan affiliations,” he said.

Kansans voted down a constitutional amendment that would have removed abortion rights protections from their state Constitution. That doesn’t necessarily mean “Kansas is lurching toward the Democratic Party,” said Karpowitz. The Sunflower State hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964. 

Another thing to keep in mind is average Americans are not at either extreme with respect to abortion, he said.

“They don’t want abortion to be banned in all circumstances, but they are also supportive of some limits. I think that nuance, both in terms of the issue and in terms of the context, is important,” Karpowitz said.

Abortion questions on state ballots in November range from measures in California and Vermont that would codify the right to abortion in their respective state constitutions to a legislative referendum that asks Montana voters whether to provide personhood protections to infants born alive after attempted abortions. Meanwhile, Kentucky voters will consider a question similar to the measure rejected by Kansans.

It is unclear what will happen next in Utah with respect to the Beehive State’s laws on abortion. The court challenge to Utah’s trigger law is ongoing and thus far, state lawmakers have requested four bills for consideration during the 2023 general session, one of which would seek an amendment to the Utah State Constitution.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who has requested legislative attorneys draft a proposed constitutional amendment, was the sponsor of Utah’s trigger law, which prohibits elective abortion but allows procedures in instances of rape or incest, risk to the mother’s life and certain fetal defects.

Romero is sponsoring legislation to protect abortion providers from criminal penalties.

Romero said she is concerned that without protections, health care providers will be hesitant to treat women who need care.

According to a Dallas Morning News report, the Texas Medical Association asked state regulators to step in after it says several hospitals afraid of violating the state’s abortion ban have turned away pregnant patients or delayed care leading to complications.

“I know there are a lot of health care providers out there that are nervous and they want to make sure that they’re giving people scientifically sound information and given the correct information so that they can make that decision,” Romero said.

Romero said she hesitates to speak on behalf of all health care providers “but at the same time, there is a fear that criminal prosecutions could happen when these providers are just trying to do their job.”

Communications directors for the Utah House of Representatives and the Utah Senate said the outcome of the Kansas vote or implications for Utah had not been discussed by GOP leaders or caucuses, and therefore they had no comment.