A Senate committee declined to recommend a bill that would have removed the requirement that women report being raped to police in order to qualify for an abortion.
The proposal, SB88, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, would still require that women report being raped in order to qualify for an exemption under Utah’s abortion ban, but it would no longer require that they report to law enforcement.
Abortions are legal in Utah through 18 weeks of pregnancy while the state's trigger ban remains held up in court.
Riebe said the police reporting requirement will prevent women from receiving abortion care even if their pregnancy was the result of rape because 88% of sexual assaults in Utah go unreported for a variety of reasons. She said her bill would instead allow women to report being assaulted to an agency where they may feel more comfortable.
"We're going to report what's happening, but we're dealing with an agency that knows how to deal with these types of victims, and it's not going to further victimize the person who's in the situation," she said. "So I think the outcome is the same. I think it's a little softer and a little bit more humane."
Riebe made clear that the bill still requires certain mandatory reporting and doesn't change the reporting of child sex abuse.
Utah's trigger law that would ban nearly all abortions — with exceptions when the life of the mother is at risk, the fetus has a fatal abnormality or when the pregnancy was the result of incest or rape — is on hold while the Utah Supreme Court decides if it’s constitutional. Lawmakers approved a resolution to make it easier to end the hold on the law earlier this month.
Several anti-abortion activists spoke against the bill Tuesday afternoon, arguing that it would be harder to hold rapists accountable without police involvement.
"I find it disconcerting that we would potentially choose not to hold rapists and predators accountable," said Mary Kelch, Pro-Life Utah chief financial officer.
Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka said the conservative group opposed the bill.
"Rape is a terrible, violent crime, and it should always be reported like all terrible crimes," she said.
Proponents of the bill said they aren't trying to make it easier for rapists to escape prosecution, but because reporting and conviction rates are so low, requiring police reports in order to qualify for an abortion wouldn't meaningfully change that.
"We understand the sentiment that we want to keep rapists off the street, and we agree with that sentiment," said Gabby Saunders, of the Utah section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "However, we live in a state where we have seen time and time again that instances of partner violence are routinely mishandled by the police. And that is why women don't report. We do not feel like we are going to be believed, we do not feel like our perpetrators are going to be brought to justice."
"It ultimately does not lead to justice for victims, unfortunately," she continued.
Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said lawmakers are "trying to address a delicate balance" when it comes to reporting and the chance for revictimization. But she said Riebe's bill would give women the choice to report to someone they feel more comfortable with.
"Empowering that survivor to make a choice is what needs to happen," she said.
In the end, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted against SB88 on party lines, before advancing a pair of other abortion bills.
- HB467 would end the licensing for elective abortion clinics in the state and require that abortions be performed in hospitals with limited exceptions. The bill also prohibits out-of-state providers from prescribing drugs to Utahns for the purpose of causing an abortion, and creates a legal presumption that anyone under the age of 14 who is pregnant is presumed to be a victim of rape or incest if they are seeking an abortion.
- HB297 would expand services for rape victims but strengthen the police reporting requirement for victims of rape who are seeking abortions.
Both bills would also completely remove Utah's rape and incest exemption after 18 weeks of pregnancy.
Having already passed the House, HB467 and HB297 now just need final approval from the Senate and governor.