Utah GOP Lawmakers Push Two Abortion Bills that Would Further Restrict Abortion Access


Kevin Cody

A view of the Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City on Aug. 21, 2021. (Photo by Kevin Cody | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Vanessa Hudson, Editor in Chief


Two pieces of legislation posing to further restrict abortion access are being pushed by Republicans in the Utah legislature.

Introduced in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, the two bills, H.B. 467 and H.B. 297, would make amendments on when people can access abortion in pregnancies as a result of rape or incest, increase penalties for doctors and revoke licenses for abortion clinics. 

Rep. Karianne Lisonbee’s H.B. 467 would close all abortion clinics, not allow victims of rape or incest to receive an abortion after 18 weeks of gestation and give criminal licensing penalties for doctors who perform abortions against these new statutes. Lisonbee already has a sponsor — Sen. Daniel McCay. The bill was passed 9-2 by the committee and passed the House Friday afternoon. It will now go to the Senate. 

Utah’s current law allows an abortion for any reason before 18 weeks. After 18 weeks, abortions can only be provided in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomalies or where the mother’s life is at risk. 

Utah’s “trigger law,” which was written to go into effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned last year, is currently blocked by a court injunction due to a pending lawsuit. The law, passed in 2020 legislative session, would ban all abortions except in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomalies or where the mother’s life is at risk. 

Lisonbee introduced the bill in committee by stating how she unequivocally values human life at all stages and circumstances. “It’s the state’s responsibility to protect the most vulnerable and that does include the unborn,” she added. 

The legislation, if passed, would stop providing licenses to abortion clinics by May 2 and all open clinics would be closed by January 2024. Lisonbee said she was hopeful the injunction on Utah’s total abortion ban would be lifted by January next year.  

Lisonbee said the bill intentionally sets the standards for medical providers. She said the current code in some places is reckless. “There would have to be an intentional violation of state statute to bring in the criminal penalties,” she added during the hearing. 

H.B. 467 makes it so a child under 14 seeking an abortion can obtain one without needing to report to law enforcement. A previous version of the bill only allowed children 12 years or younger to receive an abortion without a police report. However, anyone over the age of 12 must have reported to law enforcement to receive one.

This change comes after Rep. Brian S. King questioned in a committee meeting why the age was set at 12 when the age of consent in Utah is 14. “Why [would we] want to put in code that individuals who cannot consent to sexual activity of any kind … and align those figures in a way that makes more sense?” he asked. 

During public comment, Maryann Christensen, executive director of the Utah Eagle Forum, a conservative political group, spoke in support of the bill. “When a woman becomes pregnant, whether she likes it or not, she’s become a mother,” she said. Christensen added having an abortion only causes harm to the mother. 

David Turok, an obstetrician and gynecologist, spoke against the bill in committee. He said he understands the miraculous nature of human life, however, he asked legislators to extend their compassion to families who have to make difficult decisions.

“Abortion will never go away … by focusing on our shared values of the sanctity of human life and the paramount values of freedom and autonomy, we can preserve democracy,” he said. 

The bill passed the House floor 51-14, with Democrats voting against it.

Victim Services Amendments

Rep. Kera Birkeland’s H.B. 297, Victim Services Amendments, makes new amendments to how victims of sexual violence are required to report to law enforcement and restricts a person’s ability to get an abortion due to rape or incest to before 18 weeks. 

Birkeland said during committee the bill does not make it so people are required to report to law enforcement to receive an abortion because that law was passed before she became a lawmaker. 

She hopes this is the first of many bills to address issues with reporting sexual assault to law enforcement. “We’ve got to do better by these rape victims so that we don’t continually have to investigate them and re-victimize them,” she added. 

The legislation would require a minimum of one-hour of training for law enforcement agencies addressing victims of sexual assault. Regarding abortion, it would require medical professionals who perform an abortion for a pregnancy as a result of rape or incest to verify that the rape or incest was reported to law enforcement. It would also require the Department of Health and Human Services to collect information about abortions for rape and incest cases. 

Birkeland said law enforcement agencies already have multiple pieces of training, so starting somewhere and saying they care about this issue is only a starting point. 

The bill would allow the state to provide medical care for a child of rape for one year. “I am not … pro-birth. I am pro-life for the entire life, and we have a lot of work to do in the state of Utah to support women who choose to give life,” she said in committee. 

Nicholeen Peck, president of the Worldwide Organization for Women, said during committee she supports the bill because it provides justice and protection for victims of sexual assault.

“We also really like the part where there are provisions made for a woman who’s choosing to keep the baby even in this unfortunate circumstance,” she added. 

Jasmin Charles, who has worked as a victim advocate, opposed the bill during public comment. She said the requirement for reporting to law enforcement to obtain an abortion creates barriers when it is already difficult for women to come forward.

“I am sitting here against this bill, for concern for individuals who already really are working hard to come forward and ask for help and support being offered more barriers to access and support,” she said. 

King said he used to work at a rape recovery center and he was concerned about requirements for reporting to law enforcement to access abortion and how it could affect already low reporting numbers.

“[To] make more restrictive, the kinds of reports that allow individuals to access abortion as healthcare under those circumstances, that is problematic,” he said. 

Birkeland said reporting to law enforcement should be seen as a way to protect and empower women. “But it’s going to take some time, and it’s going to take the state of Utah to step up and say we’re going to take care of you and we’re going to get these men off the streets,” she said. 

The bill passed the House Friday afternoon with a 53-14 vote.


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