Utah lawmakers push for ban on abortion clinics after protests

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Lawmakers have proposed a measure to restrict where people can get abortions in Utah, banning abortion clinics and essentially requiring them to be performed only in hospitals. After passing through the Senate on a party-line vote on Thursday, it will return to the state House of Representatives to vote on minor amendments and then to the office of Governor Spencer Cox, an anti-abortion Republican who voiced support last month. .

“When we passed the trigger ban a few years ago, I didn’t expect to get here so quickly,” said Republican state senator Dan McCay.

The measure is one of several that members of Utah’s state house passed this year with a Republican supermajority, while abortion restrictions passed in recent years have been suspended due to a state court order. It has faced fierce opposition from business, civil liberties and abortion rights groups, including the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, which operates three of the four abortion clinics in the state.

“It has one purpose,” Karrie Galloway, the group’s president and CEO, said in a statement after the measure was passed. the best for their safety and health.”

Republican lawmakers’ push to close abortion clinics comes as red states across the country work to enact restrictions less than a year after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that held a nearly 50-year constitutional right to abortion. After the court gave states the power to regulate abortion, many sought to introduce “trigger laws” intended to take effect after a Supreme Court ruling, while others took action to get pre-Roe bans on the books. to recover.

In Utah, the ruling led to two previously passed laws: a ban on abortion after 18 weeks in 2019 and a ban on abortions in 2020 regardless of trimester, with several exceptions, including cases of risk to the mother’s health and reports of rape or sexual assault. police incest. . The state-owned Planned Parenthood sued over the 2020 ban, and in July a state court delayed its implementation until legal issues could be resolved. The 18-week ban has since become de facto law.

The clinic-focused push in Utah is unique among states with trigger laws, where many abortion clinics closed after last year’s Supreme Court decision. Clinics in states like West Virginia and Mississippi were closed in the aftermath, but in Utah they remain open as the courts deliberate. The measure echoes a series of proposals passed in red states in the decade before Roe was overturned when anti-abortion lawmakers passed measures regulating clinics, including the size of procedure rooms and distances from hospitals.

In Utah, Rep. Karianne Lisonbee’s proposal would require all abortions — via medication or surgery — to be performed in hospitals by not licensing new clinics after May 2 and not allowing any to be licensed after May 2. granted. It would affect the operation of the four clinics that offer abortions in Utah — three run by Planned Parenthood and the other by Wasatch Women’s Center, an independent clinic in Salt Lake City. The measure would also clarify the definition of abortion to address legal liability concerns that providers have raised about the way exceptions are worded in the state law — a provision Republicans called a compromise.

Because the 2020 ban would effectively bankrupt abortion clinics, opponents of abortion argue it makes sense to remove them from the state statute, said Mary Taylor, president of Pro-Life Utah. She said the exceptional circumstances in which abortion is still legal — rape, incest and maternal health — are better suited to hospital care.

“We have legal provisions to license an abortion clinic if abortion is not legal. There’s an incongruity there,” Taylor said. “This only clarifies the statute.”

McCay, the Senate sponsor of the measure, said limiting abortions to emergencies or exceptional circumstances and requiring abortions to be performed in hospitals would protect “the innocent as well as the health of the mother.”

In Utah, most abortions were performed in clinics last year. Of the total of 2,818 patients administered, 61% used drugs such as mifepristone instead of surgery. Proponents of access to abortion argued that abortions are no different from other types of specialized care that have increasingly moved to clinics where providers are more accustomed to recurring patient concerns and confronting complications that may arise.

Jasmin Charles, a physician assistant in Salt Lake City, said closing clinics would limit access to anyone wanting an abortion but make it especially difficult for those who may not have extra money or easy access to transportation. She anticipated difficult conversations with her patients, including those struggling with substance abuse, as she works to advise them on how to access a rapidly dwindling number of reproductive health care options.

“I can tell my patients that hospitals are OK,” said Charles. “But I know I work with people who don’t have access to care through the hospital when every time they walk through the hospital door — including for an abortion — they think, ‘It’s going to cost me $10,000 to $20,000.'”


This story has been updated to correct that the measure must be sent back to the Utah House of Representatives to vote on minor amendments before going to Governor Spencer Cox for approval, not directly to the governor.

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