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Planned Parenthood sues Utah over new law banning abortion after 18 weeks

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SALT LAKE CITY — As expected, the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah sued the state Wednesday over a newly passed law that bans abortions beginning at 18 weeks of pregnancy.

"We trust women. Every person deserves the right to control their body, life and future," Karrie Galloway, Planned Parenthood's president and CEO, said at a news conference in the state Capitol announcing the lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Utah.

Galloway said that right includes deciding when to become a parent, describing the law passed by the 2019 Legislature and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert as "putting medical decisions in the hands of politicians rather than the woman and her doctor."

The lawsuit comes as abortion opponents in numerous states are pushing near-total bans on the procedure, with two enacting bans after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The ACLU's senior staff attorney, Leah Farrell, said the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court seeks to block the law from taking effect May 14 while the case proceeds. She noted Utah lost a case over a similar 1991 attempt to ban some abortions.

"We are here today because our Legislature has decided once again to attempt to curb important reproductive rights," Farrell said. "And once again we are standing up to hold the line and to say, ‘We will see you in court.’"

But Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, who sponsored the bill that establishes the new limit, HB136, said Utah needs to try to "reset" Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion.

"Utah needs to put its money where its principles are," Acton said. "I think it's cowardly for a state to say, 'We'd like to have this filed, but let's wait and see if another state can get it for us.' Utah is the perfect state to do it, actually."

She said the state's price tag for a losing legal battle has been estimated at about $2 million, but her hope is that the high court will rule that abortion laws are up to the states to determine.

Planned Parenthood is arguing that no fetus is viable at 18 weeks.

"Accordingly, the 18-week ban is in flagrant violation of more than four decades of settled Supreme Court precedent, starting with Roe v. Wade, which held that a woman has a protected right to end a pregnancy," the lawsuit says.

Since that Supreme Court decision, no court has upheld a law banning abortion prior to viability, according to the suit.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare the law unconstitutional and stop it from taking effect.

Acton originally set the limit for legal abortions at 15-weeks gestation in her bill but it was revised to 18 weeks before the Republican-controlled Legislature passed it along party lines.

Currently, abortions are allowed up to when a fetus is considered viable.

During legislative debate, Acton urged lawmakers to support the bill, saying Utah cultivates a "culture of life," and as a state that values families, "Utah should be allowed to enact reasonable abortion law that reflects the will of the people."

"Utah should be the safest place in the nation for women and children, and all people, really, born and unborn," she said.

Acton said while the bill shortens the legal abortion window, it still preserves a woman's right to have an elective abortion. The bill would also allow exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother and fatal fetal defects.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Utah said during the legislative session that a lawsuit was inevitable if the bill were to pass. The two organizations have scheduled a press conference at the state Capitol this morning.

The lawsuit says the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has already invalidated a Utah law that banned abortion at 22 weeks of gestation. In striking down that law, the court noted the state's "deliberate decision to disregard controlling Supreme Court precedent.”

"Undeterred, Utah has yet again enacted a patently unconstitutional ban on previability abortion," the lawsuit says.

Planned Parenthood argues that the law would impact women who for a variety of reasons decide to end their pregnancies, including it's not the right time in their lives to have a child or that they already have children and decide they cannot add to their families.

Other women choose an abortion to preserve their life, health or safety, or because they receive a diagnosis of a fetal anomaly, according to the lawsuit. Some do so because they have become pregnant as a result of rape or incest or because they choose not to have biological children.

"Legal abortion is one of the safest procedures in contemporary medical practice and is far safer than childbirth," the lawsuit says.

About 9 out of 10 abortions in the U.S. and in Utah take place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Only a small fraction of abortions are performed at or after 18 weeks, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit names the governor, Attorney General Sean Reyes, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, Utah Department of Health Executive Director Joseph Miner and Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing Director Mark Steinagel as defendants.

According to the Associated Press, Mississippi and Kentucky have passed laws that would ban most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected — which means as early as six weeks, when many women don't even know they're pregnant. Georgia could join them if Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signs a measure that has been sent to him, and a bill in Ohio is nearing final passage.

Similar bills have been filed in at least seven other states with anti-abortion GOP majorities in their legislatures.

Alabama may go further, the AP reported, with legislation introduced last week to criminalize abortion at any stage unless the mother's health is in jeopardy.


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Dennis Romboy
Dennis Romboy is an editor and reporter for the Deseret News. He has covered a variety of beats over the years, including state and local government, social issues and courts. A Utah native, Romboy earned a degree in journalism from the University of Utah. He enjoys cycling, snowboarding and running.
Lisa Riley Roche


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