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SALT LAKE CITY — The sponsor of a bill that would have given Utah one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country has revised the bill to allow abortions up until 18 weeks gestation rather than 15 weeks.
Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, announced her revision in the House Republican caucus meeting Tuesday, saying she made the change for "some strategic reasons" — including aligning it with a similar bill being proposed in Arkansas — and to give the law better chances of surviving a legal challenge if passed by the Utah Legislature.
"Utah is known as a pro-family state. We have the nation's highest birth rate," Acton said. "So we should be the safest place in the nation, born and unborn."
Currently, Utah law allows abortions up to 22 weeks gestation, but many Utah doctors draw the line at 21 weeks to avoid risk of violating the law, Acton said.
Acton's bill, HB136, is expected to be heard Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. in the House Judiciary Committee.
A day before her bill's debut committee hearing, Acton presented the bill to House Republicans, describing the "dismemberment" process of late-term abortions, as well as negative physical and emotional impacts abortions can have on women.
Acton said "it really bothers me" that Utah law "protects a corpse" from dismemberment, "but not a living baby in the womb."
She also cited studies that indicated increased rates of suicide and infertility linked to abortions.
"The data shows there are legitimate interests (to protect women)," Acton said. "We all suffer as a society from a lot of the problems that stem from abortion."
Acton said while the bill shortens the legal abortion window, it still "preserves a woman's right to have an elective abortion." It would also allow exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother and fatal fetal defects.
"It's not a dramatic shift," she said.
Acton also noted 18 weeks is longer than abortion limits in "most of the world's countries," including in Western Europe, where she said most are limited to 12 weeks.
"We are the outliers in the U.S.," she said.
New efforts are brewing to challenge Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that established abortion as a constitutional right. Mississippi last year passed a 15-week abortion law, with exceptions for medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality, but a federal judge blocked it.
"If and when" the 18-week law is challenged in court, Acton said the Utah Attorney General's Office will defend the law.
The bill's fiscal note is listed at $0, yet Acton said if Utah loses the challenge, there's a possibility of the state having to foot "reasonable" attorneys fees.
"Which is what?" Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, asked. "Two-hundred-dollars an hour for three years?"
Acton said a legal challenge may cost between $1 million to $3 million.
"We are the only ones who can challenge abortion law," she said.