A Utah law that would have required abortions before 18 weeks to be performed in a hospital and criminalized abortions performed in abortion clinics has been placed on hold.
On Tuesday, 3rd District Court Judge Andrew Stone granted a preliminary injunction that enjoins and restrains the state from enforcing HB467, which was passed by the Utah Legislature during its 2023 General Session and was scheduled to go into effect on Wednesday.
Stone’s order prevents the state from prohibiting licensed abortion clinics from performing abortions 18 weeks from a woman’s last menstrual period and eliminating abortion clinics as a facility licensure category while the law is challenged in court.
HB467’s sponsor, Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, and the legislation’s Senate floor sponsor, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, issued the following statement: “We are confident in the state’s position but respect the process of the courts and look forward to a prompt resolution.”
The judge’s ruling notes “given the absence of evidence from the state, there is nothing before the court to indicate that an injunction would be adverse to the public interest. In terms of the state’s and the public’s interest, the plaintiff correctly observes that Utah already bans nearly all abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy, including in cases of rape or incest. An injunction against the clinic ban would not prevent Utah from enforcing this ban on abortions after 18 weeks’ gestation.”
“The plaintiff has persuasively argued that ‘the balance of equities and public interest thus weigh decisively in (the plaintiff’s) favor,’” the ruling states.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office, which defended the state statute, declined to comment on the ruling, citing ongoing litigation.
While HB467 would have required abortions to be performed in a hospital, Stone’s order quotes Dr. David Turok, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah’s director of surgical services, whose declaration to the court stated few abortions are performed in Utah hospitals. “Dr. Turok is not aware of any detailed or coordinated plan by a Utah hospital to expand its capacity to provide abortions to more patients in the event HB467 takes effect,” the ruling states.
Planned Parenthood Association of Utah challenged the law, arguing before Stone last week in a motion hearing.
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum which supported the state’s law, said she was disappointed “but not surprised because this Judge Stone did the same thing with our trigger bill.”
When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, removing the right to abortion after almost 50 years, Ruzicka said she looked forward to Utah’s trigger law going into effect after many years of fighting for the unborn and further restrictions on abortion. She said she was “frustrated” by yet another wait.
Utah’s law, which was triggered when Roe v. Wade was struck down, prohibits elective abortion but allows procedures in instances of rape or incest, risk to the mother’s life and certain fetal defects. But it, too, is on hold pending further legal proceedings under an earlier ruling by Stone.
“I was just really disappointed though that we got Judge Stone again,” Ruzicka said. “Why can’t we have another judge?”
Sarah Stoesz, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, in a statement said HB467 would have forced Planned Parenthood health centers and other providers “to turn away those seeking legal health care that we are trained and ready to provide. While we welcome this victory, the threat to Utahns’ health and personal freedom remains dire as politicians continue to undermine our judicial process and fight the injunction against Utah’s trigger ban.”
According to Turok’s declaration, a clinic ban would drive most people seeking abortion out of state or “force them to remain pregnant and ultimately give birth against their will. Patients unable to immediately receive abortion care at a Utah hospital as a result of hospital policies and capacity will be forced to delay receiving abortion care in Utah while they wait for an appointment at a Utah hospital.”
Earlier this year, Lisonbee defended HB467, stating, “We in Utah have a long-standing tradition — since before statehood — of protecting the unborn by outlawing abortion. We have compassionate exemptions, and we have compassionate law and services for women who find themselves in a situation, and we as a state ought to support them in making the decision that they need to make. That’s what this bill does, in a compassionate and thoughtful way.”